Sunday, April 21, 2019

Reaper Bones Giant Scorpion and Giant Cobra

When it was decided that the party in my RPG campaign would travel to Al-Kalim, the Arabia analogue in the game setting, fg passed me this giant cobra model from the Reaper Bones kickstarter he backed. The model comes as a single piece with an integrated base, and has individually-defined scales.

The base has an Egyptian theme to it, although the cobra itself has more of a naga look in the current D&D style. I picked a sand coloured base for the model, with an alternating brown and white chevron pattern for the back, which I thought came out quite nice.

I also bought a giant scorpion model from the Reaper Bones range from a game store when I happened to be in town. This was a multi-part model. The legs of the model are rather soft, so to support the whole model there is a separate base which fits at where I assume is the centre of gravity of the model. Again, I gave it a simple sand colouration; you can find many pictures of other painters who have decided to give this model a more multi-coloured look on google though.

These are of course useful models to have in any GM's collection, so I expect they will see more service in my future games.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Terrinoth #35 - A Lucky Morning or The Hangover

Confronting Nubb at the Canvas Market

Campaign Diary

Entana awoke with a parched mouth and a splitting headache to find himself in a prison cell, along with Strigoi and Percy. Gio was nowhere to be seen.

(Click here for PC profiles)

Strigoi and Percy woke up soon afterwards. From the small window high up on the wall of the cell they could tell it was day, but none of our heroes had any memory of what transpired the night before, nor why they were in the cell. Rather alarmingly, both Entana's and Percy's runebound shards were missing.

Before the party could figure out what to do next, two guards arrived outside the cells and started taunting them: they had been accused and found guilty for the murder of seven people in the Bronze Unicorn Tavern the night before, and were scheduled to be hanged at the Canvas Market at noon. When asked what evidence of their guilt there was, the guards replied that our heroes were the only ones found alive (albeit intoxicated) at the crime scene, that there were signs magic was used in the murder of the victims, and that once they found runebound shards on Entana and Percy - clear evidence that they were wizards - that was all it was needed for their guilt to be established. Leaving our bewildered heroes, the guards then went about their business.

As they wracked their brains trying to recall what happened, our heroes each found a piece of clue in their pockets:

Entana found a ransom note that read: Bring my 1000 Gros to the city graveyard at ten o'clock, or we bury your gnome friend there.

Strigoi found a tin gambling token with a 1 Gros face value, with the name 'Brega's House of Fun' embossed upon it.

Percy found a small jar of ointment labelled 'Gafford Tattoos', with an accompanying instruction to apply twice daily to the tattooed area. She started to examine herself for any tattoo, but could not find any; meanwhile, Entana and Strigoi noted the fresh tattoo of a grinning snake on the small of her back, but kept quiet about it...

Not long afterwards Bram, bodyguard to Entana's father, arrived. He informed them that he and the elder Venier had been informed this morning that the party had been arrested and imprisoned in the city watch-house, found guilty of mass murder, and that their rooms at the inn had been sealed by the watch. The elder Venier had gone to the Terrinoth consulate in Gafford (the whole company had arrived in Gafford the day before, aboard the Gnomeward Bound) with his remaining silver, hoping to find help to stay the execution.

Bram was able to tell our heroes that they had left the Golden Griffon Inn the afternoon before, bound for the Copper Centaur Tavern, on the recommendation of the first mate of the Gnomeward Bound (one Tripp Edveiser), to sample the local craft beers, and did not return all night. It was now 8 o'clock in the morning, and there was only four hours till their scheduled hanging.

Our heroes realised that they needed to break out of jail and find the real murderer so they could prove their innocence. They asked Bram for the layout of the watch-house, and learned that the holding cells and the evidence room were near the back of the building, and that to get here he had to pass through the front hall where most of the watchmen were. Entana asked Bram to find the location of the graveyard, the gambling house, and the tattoo parlour, and to recover their gear and silver for the ransom money from the inn, and the party set about planning how to break out of their cell.

On his way back to the Golden Griffon, Bram passed by the Canvas Market, and noticed that a stage had been set up in the square, and gallows were being erected. A small crowd had started to gather, and the food vendors were already setting up their stalls...

Without his runebound shards, Entana was unable to cast any spells. Calling upon the power of Kellos, Percy passed through the bars of their cell, sneaked into the evidence room, knocked out the watchman inside, broke into the evidence lockers with his keys, and recovered their runebound shards. On a whim, she took with her a glass bottle of blue crystals that was also on the evidence shelf.

Returning to the cell, she unlocked the door and let Strigoi and Entana out. Now armed with his runebound shards, Entana on a hunch used his spell to spike the drinking water of the watchmen with the blue crystals, and put on the uniform of the watchman that Percy had knocked out.

Not long afterwards, they heard a commotion coming from the front hall - it seemed the blue crystal was having an effect on the minds of the watchmen. Peering through the door, they could see the watchmen arguing in a drunken fashion with each other. Acting like he was a watchman escorting Strigoi and Percy to their execution, Entana tried to walk through the hall with them, but was discovered. The party dashed out of the watch-house and ducked into a side alley before they could be caught, and stole clothing off clotheslines they passed to disguise themselves.

Returning to the Golden Griffon Inn, they found Bram limping towards them: he had tried to climb into the party's room on the third floor of the inn from the window of his room (which was adjacent to theirs), but had slipped and fallen down. Percy decided to make the attempt herself, and managed to climb into the room, but when she attempted to sneak out through the door she was noticed by the watchmen. Running back into the room, she leapt out of the window, and once more called upon Kellos to let her reach the ground safely. The watchmen ran down the stairs to chase after Percy, leaving Strigoi free to walk into his room and retrieve his sword!

The party, now comprising of Entana, Strigoi, Percy, and Bram, rendezvoused at the city graveyard, which appeared abandoned. Walking further into the graveyard, they found themselves confronted by a man dressed in a merchant's robes and a dozen armed thugs. One of the thugs held a gnome with a hood over his head.

The man, who called himself Mr. Quill, accused of the party of cheating him of a thousand Gros at cards at 'Brega's House of Fun' the night before, and demanded the sum to be returned for the release of their gnome friend. Wary of trickery, the party demanded that the gnome's hood be removed.

Quill ordered the hood removed, and underneath it was a face the party recognised: Til Terraghast, the alchemist-wizard whom the party had thwarted and then spared in Orris!

Til revealed that he ran into the party the afternoon before, and had invited them for drinks, and that they had afterwards gone gambling at Brega's House of Fun, where they won some money.

When asked where Gio was, Til initially said he did not know, but when Percy threatened to leave without paying the ransom, he claimed knowledge. Unsure whether to trust the gnome, but unwilling to take the risk, our heroes pretended to make the exchange, but at the last moment attacked the thugs holding Til, and escaped with him, as Entana summoned a magical fog to prevent the thugs from pursuing them.

Once they were safe from Quill and his men, the party interrogated Til, who admitted that he had spiked their drinks with a drug he had concocted so they would feel more dis-inhibited and friendly towards him. Once the drug had taken effect and everyone "loosened up", they went to Brega's gambling den, where Til persuaded Entana to lend him the Mind runebound shard he had given Entana as his ransom back in Orris, and then used it to cheat at cards, winning a thousand Gros off Quill.

Afterwards they were joined by two of Til's old friends and adventuring partners, Griffo the gnome and Gorrik the Orc, and the party went to the Bronze Unicorn, an upscale tavern, to celebrate their win. Unfortunately, it seemed the drug had the side-effect of causing amnesia, and the last thing Til remembered was leaving the inn to go to the outhouse - when he came to, he was in Quill's custody.

Now pursued by both the city watch and Quill, the party asked Til if he had a place they could hide out. Til led them through the streets of Gafford to a tavern. As they saw the sign of the tavern, Gio and Strigoi realised that it bore the picture of a grinning snake... Later, they would find out that Til and his old adventuring group called themselves The Grinning Viper, and each member had a grinning snake tattooed on their person as a symbol of their camaraderie. When they retired from adventuring several years ago, Til went into the alchemy business, Griffo and Gorrik spent the money they had gathered living it up, and Dann the fourth member had opened a tavern bearing the group's name. It seemed that some time during the night before, Percy, inspired by the story, had gotten the same tattoo for herself too...

Pushing open the unlocked door to the tavern, Til immediately gave out a cry. Lying on the floor of the tavern was Dann's dead body. Examining the body, Entana found no wound or injuries, and Percy sensed that the killer was some form of undead that had taken Dann's soul.

The talkative Til now became sombre. When a search of the inn showed that Griffo and Gorrik were not there, he began to fear the worse. The party suggested they returned to the Bronze Unicorn to see if they could find out if Griffo and Gorrik were among those murdered.

Wearing the watchman's uniform, Bram managed to enter the crime scene, and found chalk outlines of the victims in the hall of the tavern: five human-sized, and one gnome-sized and one orc-sized. There was also signs of a fireball spell being cast onto the door of the tavern, but curiously all the chalk outlines were outside the burned area.

The news made Til even more worried, and the party suggested they went to the city morgue to find out if Griffo and Gorrik were indeed among those killed. Arriving at the morgue, they found that the morgue workers had closed the morgue to go watch the scheduled execution. Breaking in, they entered the basement of the building to where the bodies were kept, and found the bodies of a gnome and an orc, each bearing the tattoo of a grinning snake, along with five other bodies.

Convinced that the murderer was targeting Til and his adventuring group, the party asked if they had made enemies or robbed tombs during their career, to which he replied they had done plenty of both. Then Percy asked if there had be anyone his party had wronged or left behind, and Til froze, and his eyes widened.

'It must be Nudd!' he said.

Nudd, he explained, was a wizard who joined the party not long before they retired. Nudd was a quiet fellow who never really fit in the party, but they had kept him as they needed his skills. Then one day, while robbing a tomb, they were attacked by an incorporeal undead which their weapons and spells could not harm; Nudd fell, and the party fled with the treasures they looted, but without Nudd, leaving him for dead. Now convinced that Nudd was back for revenge, Til offered himself as bait to lure Nudd out, so that the party could take him down to avenge his party, and exonerate themselves at the same time.

Strigoi suggested that Til showed himself at the Canvas Market, where everyone would be gathered for the execution, and Til agreed, and despite Percy's best efforts would not change his mind.

Now the Canvas Market was the largest market in Gafford, and was called that on account of the long canvas awnings that stretched between the buildings surrounding the market square, providing shade to the stalls below. When the party arrived, the market was already filled with hundreds of townsfolk who had gathered the see the execution. Bram, Entana, and Percy took up positions on the buildings surround the square, while Strigoi followed Til as he walked amongst the crowd, hoping to spot Nudd or be spotted by him.

They were not disappointed, for Percy soon noticed a thin man heading towards Til. Taking a black, teardrop-shaped bottle from his belt, the man unstoppered it, and out of the mouth of the bottle an inky mist emerged, formed into the ghostly humanoid shape, and charged at Til.

Strigoi rushed towards Til, but was unable to stop the wraith from striking Til, whose face turned pale at the touch. Bram leapt onto the canvas, and from there to the ground, and pulled Til away to safety.

Percy called upon the power of Kellos and hurled bolts of force onto Nudd, who then called forth more shadowy forms from the bottle, which formed a whirling ring around him. For the far side of the square Entana hurled bolts of fire at Nudd, but only succeeded in setting the canvas awning on fire.

The crowd began to panic, and realising that he had been lured into a trap, Nudd started to flee the market. Seeing this, Bram barreled through the crowd to reach Nudd, and as he passed though the ring of shadowy forms around Nudd, he felt his life force being sucked out of him; summoning the last reserves of his strength, he swung his sword at Nudd, and severed his hand at the wrist; Nudd let out a cry as his hand and the bottle dropped to the ground. At the same time, Strigoi struck once more at the wraith with his sword, and the undead dissipated.

The party was soon surrounded by the city watch, and once more arrested and brought back to the watch-house. Nudd was interrogated and revealed that he had not died in the tomb the Grinning Vipers left him at, but had found the bottle with which he could trap and command the wraith. He tracked down his former companions, intent on exacting revenge on them for their betrayal. Last nigh, he finally put his plans into action, releasing the wraith and ordering it to kill all those inside the Bronze Unicorn, unaware that Til had left to go to the outhouse. The wraith slew Griffo, Gorrik, the tavern-keeper his son, and three other innocent bystanders, but was driven off by our heroes.

With Til's testimony, Nudd's confession, and a little pressure from the Terrinoth consulate, the party were quickly exonerated and released. But they still did not know where Gio was.

As they were leaving the watch-house, Til announced that he had to go to the outhouse, whereupon Strigoi offered to accompany him so he would not get into further trouble. At that remark Til once more froze, and his eyes once more widened: he knew where Gio was!

Til now recalled that he had accompanied Gio to the outhouse at the Bronze Unicorn the night before, and Gio had in his drunken state fallen into the cesspit - Til was on the way back to get help when he was kidnapped by Quill's men.

Sure enough, the party found Gio at the bottom of the cesspit at the Bronze Unicorn, still passed out. What is more: he had the thousand Gros they had won from Quill on him!

As the party prepared to leave Gafford, Til asked to join them on their journey to Terrinoth. After exacting a promise from him to do no more mischief, the party agreed.

Prepping and Running the Game

This session was based on the module A Lucky Morning by Run Amok Games and of course the movie The Hangover.

After the scenario set in Orris I had wanted to let the party go to Torrue Albes, so that the players could experience the land, and so I could bring back either Captain Hurst or Til Terraghast.

I initially planned on using Murder at the Vulgar Unicorn, but that module was too long and complex for the time we had. I then came across A Lucky Morning, which had the same theme of a murder mystery, except that the PCs were not really implicated.

I decided to mix the premise of the two modules, and run a scenario where the PCs would start the session in jail, and without their equipment. Somewhere along the line I had to idea to turn the whole thing into The Hangover, and have the PCs start the session in jail, without their equipment, AND without any memory of what brought them there.

To stay close to the plot of The Hangover, I decided to have Gio go missing, so that I could recreate the scene from the movie when the party ransom the wrong Doug. This also prevented the players from deciding to just skip town once they have escaped their cell, and forced them to investigate the mystery. As I planned the details of the game, I realised this actually made things more challenging, as Gio's skills as a rogue would have made the scenario much easier for the players.

Now I knew from all the advice given in the various forums that player buy-in was very important when running a scenario where their agency would be taken away from them. In this case I was doing three things: taking away their stuff, locking them up, making them do things that they didn't want to. Any one of these could piss players off, and doing three was really pushing it; but I have gamed with these players for many months, and there was trust between us. I made sure to let them know early that I would be running such a game, and separately I asked the player playing Gio if he was ok with not playing Gio for one session. At the start of the session I told them that this would be a it of a "Halloween Special" session, so they would find certain anachronism in this game, like evidence lockers and chalk outlines.

Between the premise of A Lucky Morning and the plot of The Hangover, it wasn't difficult to come up with an account of what happened. What remained to be done once I have decided what happened was to decide what clues to give to the players. Here I took the advice of giving the players at least three clues to work with: the ransom note, the casino chip, and the tattoo - in fact, I handed them real props: a handwritten note, an actual casino chip, and a tube of ointment with a handwritten label.

The three clues gave them several options to take their investigation, which made this a very open game. The only 'fixed' part of the adventure was the need to break out from their cell, and I had no definite idea of how they would achieve this; the blue crystals on the evidence shelf was something I improvised when Percy asked what else was in the room, and I randomly decided that it would be the same stuff that Til spiked their drinks with.

Once they escaped their cell, there were several ways they could continue. To prepare for this, I had several locations ready: the inn, the three taverns (the crime scene, the place where Gil spiked their drinks, and the Grinning Viper), the casino, the tattoo parlour, the graveyard, the morgue, and the Canvas Market. As it turned out, they visited almost all of these sites. The plan was to give the players a few more clues at each location, or if they were stuck, tell them that they came upon a building with the sign of the tavern/tattoo parlour/casino.

While I had all the locations prepared, I did not have a set order I needed them to visit the locations in. For example, I had planned for them to be attacked by the wraith at the Canvas Market as one of the encounters during their investigation, and not as the final encounter, which I assumed would happen at the Grinning Viper. The idea was to keep the tension going, make sure the investigation progress with each encounter, and throw attackers/pursuers at them when things are slowing down.

I was glad I brought Til back, because once again he triggered a visceral reaction from Percy's player. The fact that he was up to the same shenanigans after promising not to do so after their last encounter frustrated them. However, the tone of the game took a turn when I role-played Til's reaction to his friends' death, and I think the players truly felt sorry for him then.

The other high point of the game for me was when I had to find a way to reveal Gio's location. I made Til say out loud that he needed to use the toilet, and sure enough Strigoi offered to go with him - this was exactly the response I needed for Til to suddenly remember what happened to Gio, and gave me a way to make the reveal in a 'natural' manner.

All in all we enjoyed the session, and with Til following the party back to Terrinoth, there is a chance he can become their resident alchemist in the next arc of the campaign, when we will transition into a 'domain' game. I am also now thinking of running a "Halloween Special" session near the end of each future campaign arc, perhaps even another The Hangover game.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Terrinoth #34 - The Buried Palace

Campaign Diary

A sinkhole, Iwan explained, recently appeared in one of the bath-houses owned by Shazar. Shazar had sent some men into the sinkhole to evaluate the damage, but they had not returned. As Shazar did not want news of this to spread, draw the attention of the authorities onto his business, or even worse - affect the resale value of the property, he offered to help our heroes bring all the treasures they have found on their trip to Al-Kalim through the customs, if they would help him check out the sinkhole and determine if it was still safe for him to operate the bath-house. In addition, he would let the party keep all the treasures they find inside, except that he would have first pick on one of the items.

Our heroes accepted the offer, and the next evening they were at Shazar's bath-house. A rope, tied to one of the pillars, led down to the main pool, and from there through a five-foot wide hole. Looking through the hole, Percy could see that it was a fifty-foot drop.

(Click here for PC profiles)

One by one our heroes descended the rope. For the first twenty feet they passed through earth, and then and they found themselves under the roof of a large porch. The porch covered an area about seventy feet deep and twice as wide. Twenty pillars, each thirty feet tall and made of flawless glass, held up a marble roof. In the middle of the porch was a large pond lined with colourful tiles. On three sides the porch was blocked by earth; on the remaining side a wide staircase, designed to impress, led to a doorway.

Passing through the doorway, they entered a large hall, and immediately found the bodies of two men on the marble floor, crushed and mangled. Standing at the other end of the hall stood a humanoid figure some eight feet tall, made entirely of glass. As the glass figure moved towards them, Strigoi switched his maul for his sword, and together with Gio and Perch they attacked it. Entana stood back, and hurled spells at it, only to find his spells reflected back at him! With his heavy maul, Strigoi soon destroyed the glass figure, which shattered into countless pieces as it fell.

The party now looked about them, and saw that the walls of the hall were covered in frescoes, painted in a different style from that which they had seen in their previous adventures. Were these perhaps made during the era of the Djinni?

The frescoes depicted scenes of sieges and battles, and while looking at them, Strigoi had a sense that they all  drew his attention to one figure in each scene and that the figures represented the same person - surely he was the king of this palace?

Passing through the doorway on the other end of the hall, the party entered a larger hall. On the roof of this hall were three domes; through each dome our heroes could see the earth that the palace is now buried under - the domes were made of glass, which incredibly withstood the weight of the earth above them.

Again the walls were covered with frescoes, this time depicting scenes of torture and execution. Again Strigoi got the uneasy sense that the frescoes drew his attention to one figure in each scene - the king overseeing the punishment. The first hall was meant to impress, and this hall is meant to intimidate, he concluded.

Opposite the doorway they came through were a set of double-doors. Passing through this, they came into a third hall, this one smaller than the other two. A glass statue of a swordsman stood on each of the walls to their left and right, and against the far wall was a dais, upon which was a marble throne, carved in intricate lattice work, and its seat shaped and smoothed for the comfort of the sitter.

On either side of the throne were matching frescoes: on one side the king, on foot and wielding a two-handed sword, hewed the neck of a giant bird; on the other side the king, mounted and holding a lance, speared a dragon. In the centre, above the throne, the king was depicted sitting in a throne, with a snake rising out of each of his shoulders.

Percy, from her time spent at the library of the Citadel of the Lamp, recognised the bird to be a simurgh, a mythical benevolent creature, and that the dragon too was held as a protector of men in Al-Kalim lore.

Investigating the statues, they soon found that they guarded secret doors that were behind them - the statues would turn and strike at anyone who attempted to open the secret doors with their swords. Circumventing the traps, they party entered the room behind one door, and found its floor gold and silver coins that had spilled out of the rotten wooden chests that once held them. So heavy were the haul, that our heroes had to divide the lot between them as not even Strigoi would have been able to carry all of it and still fight.

Entering the other hidden room, they found five stone pedestals, each upon which laid an item. They were: a garnet ring with the image of a winged lion with the face of a man carved upon it; a lapis lazuli ring with the image of a running antelope carved upon it; a pendant made from an unknown stone, that resembled an eyeball; a bronze arrowhead, set as a pendant, and a bronze shield, inlaid with gold and silver in intricate patterns. Our heroes took these items, and started back to the surface.

When they climbed the rope back to the bath-house again, they found Shazar waiting for them, alone. Seemingly in good humour, Shazar asked about what they found below, and Percy described the palace they found, and suggested that perhaps Shazar could use it for himself. Shazar listened with apparent interest, before turning his attention to the items the party had recovered. Entana, Gio, and Percy presented the rings and pendants they took, but Strigoi, hoping to keep the bronze shield for himself, tried to act as though he had it before he entered the sinkhole. Even as he tried to hide the truth, Strigoi once more had an uneasy feeling, as if his mind was being probed. At the same time Gio realised that despite his girth, Shazar bore an uncanny resemblance to the king depicted in the frescoes...

Shazar's smile turned from mirthful to sinister, and he asked casually:"Tell me, does my palace still have all of its twenty pillars?"

Our heroes' blood turned cold at his question.

Shazar reiterated his promise that our heroes could keep all of *his* gold that they found, but he would claim the garnet ring as was his deal, took the ring, and left the bath-house.

As soon as Shazar was out of sight, our heroes ran back to the Terrinoth compound, and risking being caught for breaking the curfew (for foreigners were not allowed outside their compounds after sunset in Al-Madena), banged on the door, begging to be let in. Belatedly Percy recalled who the figure depicted in the frescoes was: it was Zaddak, a powerful djnni who had snakes growing out of each of his shoulders; each snake were fed each day with a human brain, taken from the many human subjects in Zaddak's realm.

Gathering the elder Venier and Bram, the whole party set off at first light, eager to leave the city and the land far behind them.

Prepping and Running the Game

This session was based on the module The Buried Palace, by Kobold Press.

The main campaign in the Al-Kalim arc had already been completed, but I wanted the PCs to have some adventure within Al-Madena itself, and experience what "modern" Al-Kalim had to offer. I initially wanted to run an Ebonclad adventure where the PCs have to sabotage and stop a political wedding between two families but not harm the bride or groom, but I came across The Buried Palace, and thought I would send them into yet another dungeon, but this time one built in the more recent past.

The original module featured an ancient palace buried beneath a "modern" city, with the twist that the quest-giver was in fact an ancient/immortal being whose face was depicted in paintings in the palace.

Once more I cut the dungeon down, leaving out the interesting giant ants which inhabited the original palace, but keeping the equally interesting glass golem that had the ability to reflect spells.

To decorate the walls of the palace, I looked for frescoes from the Sassanid era on google, and eventually settled on a series of illustrations from a version of the Shahnameh.

While looking for pictures of frescoes, I came upon Chehel Sotoun, and was impressed by its architecture. I was able to find plans of this small palace, and decided that instead of the map in the module, it would be more realistic to "bury" an actual palace underground. To make the palace more fantastical, I riffed off the glass golem theme, and gave it glass pillars and glass domes, intended to advertise the djinni "technology" that existed.

Also while looking for pictures, I came across several depictions of a man with snakes growing out of his shoulders. This turned out to be Zahhak, the greatest Persian villain whom I have never heard of. I decided to make him a djinn in my world (many djinni escaped banishment during the"revolution"), and changed his name to Zaddak. To make the appearance of the character less contrived, I decided that Shazar, an NPC quest-giver I made up on the fly in a previous game, was Zaddak all along! This, I thought, would make the players less suspicious of an "easy" mission, as Shazar had worked with them previously, and it would certainly make the reveal more impactful.

As it turned out I was right: the players decided at the end of the adventure that Al-Kalim a was screwed-up land and they wanted nothing to do with it anymore. I feel I managed the build-up to the reveal rather well - certainly better than I managed the build-up to Percy's temporary death - so lesson learned there.

Based on the account of the brain-eating snakes, I decided that I would stat Zaddak after a Mind-flayer. The Mind-flayer used its tentacles to grapple its victims and then eat their brains, something which I thought would work well for Zaddak's snakes too. I had previously described Shazar as being fat - had the players decided to fight him, they would find that the "fats" was actually two serpents coiled beneath his clothes. I also riffed off the psychic abilities of the Mind-flayer, giving the frescoes a psychic residue which told those who looked upon them who they were supposed to notice. When Strigoi's player tried to hide the shield of Zaddak, I used the Mind-flayer's Detect Thought spell and described how it "probed" Strigoi's mind, just like the spell description said.

As a side-note, the day after we played this game, this youtube channel which I follow published this video:

Talk about coincidence!

One of the other aims of running an adventure before they left Al-Kalim was that I wanted to give them more magical items, and when rolling up loot for the palace I decided to give them a lot of gold too - they would leave Al-Kalim more than 3000 gp richer than when they arrived. This was because we have decided to transition the game to a "domain" game in the next arc (which we will play after two or three other campaigns), and they will need the cash.

The coolest moment for me during the game came when Strigoi's player asked whether he knew what the frescoes were meant to communicate. I had him make a roll, and when he succeeded I told him, "drawing on your experience as a mercenary leader, you realised what these frescoes were meant to do..." and immediately he understood that they were meant to create fear in the viewers. This was exactly the technique Matt Colville used in one of his streamed games, where he gave out information to a player in the context of how his character would understand it. I am very proud of my player and myself for making this moment happen. Thanks, Matt.

All in all I am very happy with the session: the PCs explored an interesting dungeon and discovered its story as they went through it, they had a short but interesting combat (then avoided some traps and found some loot), role-played an interaction with an NPC - all three pillars of an RPG.

I will be wrapping up the Terrinoth campaign over the next few weeks, and from May to July we are planning to play a Sorcery! campaign using the Advanced Fighting Fantasy game. We may play a few B Team games at the end of July to mid-September, to complete the arc we started; after that we will likely play a Savage Worlds sci-fi campaign using the new edition of the rules. We will return to the A Team probably early next year, when we will play a "domain" campaign using some of the rules from Matt Colville's Strongholds and Followers.

The next two sessions I play to run a scenario set in Torrue Albes, which the party will pass through on their way back to Terrinoth. I have an idea of running a more light-hearted, comedic game, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Terrinoth #33 - The Book and the Spring Part V

Campaign Diary

Opening the door, our heroes found themselves in another large hall. At the other side of the hall was a throne made of a single block of carnallite. Upon the throne sat a gaunt figure, his dry skin on his face stretched over his skull. Upon his head he wore the crown of a sorcerer-king, and in one hand he held his ibex sceptre - they have found Edu-Ellukinu.

Next to Edu-Ellikinu stood a terrifying skeletal figure, with three heads upon its shoulders and six arms, each wielding a scimitar - immediately our heroes knew that this must be the undead form of the three generals who remained loyal to Edu-Ellikinu, and followed him to his tomb.

Our heroes leapt into action. Gio called upon Fortuna's favour, and sent the skeletal general into a laughing fit. Strigoi, on a hunch, held the golden statuette he looted in his left hand instead of his shield, and charged at Edu-Ellikinu; Percy followed after him. Entana stayed at a distance, casting spells against the sorcerer-king.

(Click here for PC profiles)

But each time the heroes got close to Edu-Ellikinu, he struck the ground with his sceptre, and a thunderous wave would throw Percy and Gio back - but Strigoi stood firm, and kept up his attack on the sorcerer-king, giving Gio the chance to sneak behind him and attack.

Eventually the skeletal general threw off the spell cast upon him, and advanced on Entana, who fell under the flashing scimitars. It then turned upon Percy, who likewise was unable to withstand its attacks. But it was too late to save its king, who fell under the combined attacks of Strigoi and Gio. As Strigoi lopped off the head of the sorcerer-king, a black mist emerged from its neck, only to dissipate in the air. Edu-Ellikinu's body, along with that of his general, crumbled to dust leaving only the bronze ibex sceptre behind.

Gio and Strigoi roused Entana and Percy, and they began to discuss how to destroy the sceptre. Entana and Percy, drawing upon the story of how Timmoran destroyed the Orb, suspected that breaking the sceptre would cause a huge release of energy that would destroy everything around it, concluded that it would be foolish to try to do so in the tomb, and the party hurried back.

Arriving at the rotating door, they called out to Finaz to activate the levers to let them through. But Finaz, had other ideas - she demanded that she be allowed to keep the sceptre as her pick of the treasures they found on their quest. Our heroes refused, and for a while the two sides bargained, until at last Finaz relented and let them through; she would let them keep the sceptre, but would take the golden statuette and the head of the summoner's staff instead.

Exiting the tomb, the party found that the sun was low in the sky, and the Medjani were waiting outside for them. They recoiled at the sight of the sceptre, and would not touch it.

The party placed the sceptre against a rock, and hurled spells against it, but it would not break. No one knew how much time they had before Edu-Ellikinu would rise again if the sceptre was not destroyed, and with the sun setting, Percy made the unthinkable decision - she alone would destroy the sceptre. She could not risk an evil such as Edu-Ellikinu rising again, if she had a chance to prevent it.

The rest of the party stood a distance away, as Percy knelt down and said a final prayer to Kellos. And then, just as the sun was dipping below the horizon, she struck the sceptre against the rock with all her strength.

A loud boom echoed across the valley as a cloud of dust was thrown up. When the dust had settled, Gio, Entana and Strigoi rushed forward. They found a shallow crater where the rock was. In the crater lay the broken sceptre, and the lifeless form of Percy.

Carrying Percy's body, the party returned to their camp, where they gathered Bram and the elder Venier, and they made their way up to Eresh, the Scented House. As they took the final steps to the dome, they heard the sound of running water...

Indeed, water now flowed out of the rock, and the pool below it was filling. Entana bade his father to enter the pool, and Strigoi laid Percy's body in it too.

As the water washed over him, the elder Venier felt his strength returning to him. Slowly the water rose, covering Percy's ears, then her eyes, and finally her nose... and then she sat up, gasping and choking.

There was much bewilderment and joy on the part of the party. As they prepared to leave, Gio had the idea to carve the party's names onto the wall, and found that the form of the four of them had already been carved on a panel, standing before a flowing spring. Turning back one last time as they descended the stairs to return to camp, Percy saw a man whose eyes were glowing with light - the same man she saw in Nerekhall - who vanished as suddenly as he appeared.

When he saw the Medjani waiting outside the Eresh for them, Gio thought of a hoax that would certainly make Fortuna proud - he conjured up an illusion of Utnaprashnev crowning him, hoping to convince the Medjani that he was to be their new king. However, the Medjani, having come to know Gio as a trickster, saw it as a prank, and laughed.

That night there was a feast, as the Medjani celebrated the destruction of Edu-Ellikinu and the restoration of the sacred spring, and Percy's resurrection.

The next day the party made its way back to Al-Madena, having promised to keep the news of the restoration of the spring a secret until the Medjani could gather their people and protect Essilim against invaders.

At last returning to Al-Madena, Bram made arrangements for the voyage back to Dawnsmoor. It would be several days before they had to leave, and our heroes kept themselves busy. Entana spent more time at the Citadel of the Lamp, the arcane college. Percy, convinced that Kellos had brought her back to life to help others, volunteered at the local soup kitchen, where she became more fluent with the Al-Kalim language. Strigoi tried to learn the local fighting arts, but found the locals a distrusting lot.

Then, a day before they were due to leave, Iwan came calling. Knowing that visitors to Al-Kalim often liked to collect "souvenirs" which are oftentimes illegal to export from the land, he brought an offer from Shazar: for a little service, Shazar would ensure that the party's belongings made it through the customs intact. It would be, Iwan assured them, a simple job, within the city, that would just take the evening...

Prepping and Running the Game

This first half of this session concluded the module, while the second half, which I will describe in the next post, dealt with the "work" for Shazar.

The battle against Edu-Ellikinu and his general was something which I had to think about for a while. I based Edu-Ellikinu off a Death Knight, which made him powerful in melee, and gave him some powerful spells. I wanted to give him a ranged attack, so the PCs could not just stand at a distance and just throw spells and missiles at him, so I gave the sceptre the Dwarven Thrower ability - when thrown, the sceptre would return to Edu-Ellikinu's hand. At the same time, I also did not want him to be overwhelmed by melee, so I decided to tweak the Death Knight's Destructive Wave spell a bit, making those who fail the saving throw be hurled back such that they are 30 feet away; as getting up from Prone would cost half a move, this meant that characters who are thrown back cannot get back into melee the same turn. I 'reskinned' the spell, such that it is activated when Edu-Ellikinu struck the ground with the sceptre. This gave the effect of Thor's hammer, which was not something I had planned.

The sceptre itself was based on a real artifact, found in the Judean desert. You can see an image of it here. Once again, real world history provides inspiration.

The general was an idea based on the Tomb Guardian miniature I had. The original module had the three generals as separate NPCs, but I thought that this was my best chance to use the miniature, so I came up with the idea that the three generals had been combined into one, in a way resembling the Skull Lord. I included the general as I also wanted to insure against the fight being one-sided in case the PCs got off a spell that prevented Edu-Ellikinu from acting; as it turned our the general sat out the first three turns - but when he finally got to act, he cut down the two weaker PCs in two rounds flat.

For the destruction of the sceptre I modeled the rule after the Retributive Strike rule, which applies to the breaking of some staves in the D&D rules. I was prepared to resurrect any PC who was killed destroying the staff, but I did not want to make it a definite thing, so I decided that the destruction would cause (1d12 + 1) x 16 hp damage. This meant that there was a chance that any of the PCs would survive. However, the players knew the urgency of the matter, and did not take the chance to rest or heal up, and at only 1 hp, there was no chance Percy would have survived.

I did not manage the mood leading up to the death of Percy well, and did not allow enough time to describe the NPCs' reaction, or let the other players role-play their reaction to events. At the same time I am not very sure the players thought there was a chance that Percy's character would be permanently dead... PC death is not something I do often, and I may have to manage it better the next time.

Fortunately though, it seems the players responded well to attempts at a horror element in the second half of the session, which I will discuss in my next post,

This game also featured the debut of a new figure for Strigoi. Strigoi's player switched over to using sword-and-shield a few games back, and so I decided it was time to update his on-table look.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Terrinoth #32 - The Book and the Spring Part IV

Edu-Ellikinu's guardian
Campaign Diary

Behind the bronze doors lay a long corridor with alcoves to the sides. Each of these held the crypts of the ancient sorcerer-kings of Essilim and their Queens. Our heroes counted thirteen crypts on each side, and at the end of the corridor were another set of bronze doors.

(Click here for PC profiles)

The relief on one bronze door showed Edu-Ellikinu standing with his hands in supplication. On the other door was the depiction of a taller figure, a man with the head of an ibex, and two pairs of wings upon his back. He is shown presenting a sceptre crowned with heads of several ibexes to Edu-Ellikinu. This, our heroes knew, must be the demon Tamtu, Edu-Ellikinu's patron.

The bronze doors were not locked. Our heroes pushed the doors open, and beheld a cavernous hall whose floor was lined with black marble. A ditch bisected the hall halfway across, and a narrow bridge spanned it. Standing on the bridge, staring at our heroes with the empty socket of its eye, was a skeletal cyclops, almost 20 feet in height.

The skeletal cyclops opened its mouth in a silent roar, and strode towards the party. Once more Strigoi stepped to the fore, as Gio flanked the giant.

Strigoi's constant blows on the giant enraged it, and the cyclops struck Strigoi with such a heavy blow, that he nearly fell down. Taking advantage of the distraction, Gio stuck the tip of his shortsword into the ankle joint of the giant, and deftly dislocated a leg bone.

"It's all in the wrist!" he cried.

Taking cue from Gio, Strigoi ducked under the giant's swinging fists and with one blow sliced through the joint in its pubic bones, and with another blow sliced through its hip joint - bone came tumbling down like a house of cards. They have defeated the guardian that Tamtu has set.

Crossing the bridge, they saw that it was filled with hundreds of human skeletons - victims from human sacrifices made to Tamtu millennia ago. In the far end of the hall, flanking another set of doors, were holding cells.

Beyond the doors, our heroes knew, must be Edu-Ellikinu, and perhaps the three generals who remained loyal to him to the last, and fled into these tombs with him...

Prepping and Running the Game

This encounter was done for a few purposes, one of which was to utilise this awesome double-page map from the Big Book of Battle Mats.

One other purpose was to deplete the PCs' hit points and resources before the final encounter, so as to make it more challenging. In this I nearly succeeded, reducing Strigoi at one point to just 2 hit points. Unfortunately for me, Gio usually has very good die-rolls against skeletons, and in his final attacks Strigoi's player rolled two 19s in a row.

What is worse, Entana has only used two of his spell slots. It will be an interesing battle.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Terrinoth #31 - The Book and the Spring Part III

Campaign Diary

As the sun rose on the day before Spring Equinox, our heroes climbed the long flight of steps that led from the valley floor to Eresh, the Fragrant House, some 150 feet above. Along the side of the stairs ran the dry stream that used to carry the water from the sacred spring from its source in the Eresh to the lake below, and on both sides were huge terraces that once were gardens covered with exotic plants and fruiting trees.

(Click here for PC profiles)

As they reached the portico of Eresh, they saw two startled jackals fleeing from them - on the floor laid two bodies, dressed as the other minions of the summoner they defeated. An examination of the remains showed that they had died but a few days ago; their bones were broken, as though they had fallen from a great height.

Entering the Eresh, they passed through its abandoned baths and many rooms that once upon a time must have served as consultation rooms for the patients who have come to seek healing. Ascending the stairs, they came to the the dome of the building, where the room was built against the rock from which the spring once flowed; now, only a trickle remained, barely enough to keep the pool below it filled.

The walls of the room were covered in bas relief, which depicted the founding of Essilim and how the god Utnapashtev created the spring by striking the ground with his staff. As they viewed the relief, they became aware of a clinking sound coming from the far corner of the room.

Approaching the source of the sound, Strigoi saw a bald old man sitting with his back to the party - he was carving the stone wall of the room with a chisel and mallet.

Introducing himself as Memm, he claimed to have created the bas relief, and told the story of the scenes depicted on them.

Our heroes explained their quest, and offered to help Memm restore the spring of Essilim. Memm explained that to do so, they must destroy Edu-Ellikinu, for it was said that Utnapashtev would not let the waters flow again until Edu-Ellinkinu was destroyed. But Edu-Ellikinu had the protection of the demon Tamtu, who gave him undeath, and set a guardian over him in the royal tomb. What is more, Eud-Ellikinu possessed a sceptre given to him by Tamtu, and for Edu-Ellikinu to truly die, the sceptre too must be destroyed.

To destroy Edu-Ellikinu, Memm said cryptically, took true hearts and sacrifice. Then he wandered off absent-mindedly, and returned to his carving.

For a while the heroes debated on whether to proceed to the royal tombs without the Medjani's knowledge, but realised they would need the keys to access the lower tombs as indicated in the summoner's map.

Arriving back at the Medjani camp at lunch time, they recounted their meeting with Memm (whom the Medjani knew nothing of), and sought permission to enter the tomb.

At first they refused, bidding Entana to return to Al-Madena and making his father's final days peaceful rather than making him grief the loss of a son, but our heroes were adamant.

The leader of the Medjani asked why they risked their lives so. Entana replied 'for family', Strigoi replied 'for loyalty', Percy 'to help those in need', and Gio replied 'for fame'.

Sensing their determination, the Medjani leader made them promise not to disturb any of the graves or grave goods within the royal tombs, and then handed them both keys to the tomb.

Our heroes once more ascended the northern slope of the valley, this time headed for the royal tomb. The tomb itself was cut into the rock of the hill side itself. On both sides of the entryway were statues of gods and fantastical beasts. Passing these, the party entered the main hall of the tomb, but where the map indicated was the entrance to the lower tomb there was a short corridor ending in a wall before of which stood a statue of Utnapashtev. On the walls on either side of the short corridor were holes, into which the keys fit, but they were occluded.

Following the clues on the summoner's map, our heroes eventually managed to insert the keys into the key holes, and after some experimenting found that when both keys were activated, the wall before them would rotate and allow them to enter the lower tomb; but there was a catch - someone had to be on the outside to activate the key again for them to return.

Finaz volunteered to remain behind, but reminded the party of their promise to let her have first pick of any magical items they found.

Entering the corridor behind the wall, they soon found themselves at a T-junction. The passages both sloped downwards, leading deeper into the ground. Strigoi led the party down the left-hand passage, until they came into a chamber. On the far wall were double bronze doors.

Examining the keyhole on the door, Gio thought that the lock was a simple one, and proceeded to pick it. But as he inserted his lock pick, a bronze door came down over the doorway which they just entered through, and sand began to seep in through the cracks between the stone slabs that formed the ceiling. They were trapped!

Strigoi and Percy strained to lift the bronze door, but it would not budge. The party searched frantically for a secret door or mechanism that would reverse the mechanism, but could only find a pressure plate on the floor which they could not activate.

As the sand from the ceiling covered their legs, our heroes huddled at a corner, and Entana began to cast up a dome of force, hoping that the spell would buy them enough time for the trap to run its course.

It worked.

The sand rose above the level of their heads, and soon completely buried the dome, but our heroes were safe within. After a while they heard a rumbling sound, and the sand began to recede. Looking through the dome, they found that the pressure plate had been depressed by the weight of the sand, revealing several holes which allowed the sand to flow out of the room.

Gio stepped out and continued to pick the lock to the bronze double-doors, only to find when he succeeded that they opened to a wall!

Pouring the sand out of their boots, our heroes turned back and took the right-hand passage.

The right hand passage led to a wide gallery, on the walls of which were carved in relief the deeds of the sorcerer-kings of Essilim. Our heroes counted 26 kings; on the last panel a name was inscribed, but no carving had been made yet...

At the end of the gallery the passage split into two, leading into two shorter galleries, one lined with statues of male gods, and one with statues of female gods. Passing these, our heroes came upon another set of bronze double doors; two doorways on either side of the corridor led to two similar chambers; within each were tiny sarcophagi, statuettes, and other grave goods. On the far walls of each chamber were mosaic, one showed a pair of scorpions flanking a metal piece in the shape of the stylised symbol of the sun, the other showed a pair of cobras flanking a metal piece in the shape of the stylised symbol of the crescent moon.

Examining the bronze doors, they saw that one side depicted a winged lion with the face of a human - one of its paws rested on a hollow that had the same shape as the sun symbol in one of the chambers, while the other side depicted a winged bull with a human face - and beneath one of its hooves was a hollow that had the same shape as the crescent moon symbol. It appeared that the metal pieces on the walls were the keys needed to unlock the bronze doors.

Taking heed of the warning posed by the venomous mosaic creatures on the wall, our heroes did not dare to remove the metal pieces with their hands, but Entana used his Force runebound shard to create an magical hand to do the deed instead. As the sun symbol was pried loose from its socket in the wall, one of the mosaic scorpions reached out with one of its pincers to strike at the magical hand, causing it to disappear - the metal piece fell to the floor. The scorpion then leapt out of the wall and took form on the floor - it was fifteen feet in length from head to the tip of its sting-bearing tail. Our heroes charged at the monster, which fought back with ferocity. Strigoi took the brunt of the combat, and suffered a sting at his neck where it was not covered by his armour, but the magical scorpion was soon defeated, and vanished as suddenly as it appeared.

Recovering the sun symbol, our heroes took some time to heal up, and then prepared themselves for the next combat. As predicted, a giant cobra materialised out of the mosaic, and attacked the party when they removed the moon symbol. Again Strigoi was in the fore of the fight. The giant snake coiled its scaly body around Strigoi's chest, and broke a few of his ribs with its massive strength. Gio leapt onto the hood of the cobra, and stabbed at it, while Entana hurled bolts of fire against it, and finally it was destroyed.

Once more the party rested, and Strigoi drank the last of their healing potions. Then, inserting the metal pieces into the hollows in the bronze doors, they heard a clinking sound as gears seemed to turn within the door. Then they heard two loud clunks, as the vertical and horizontal bolts which held the doors shut moved out of their positions.

They pushed the doors open...

Prepping and Running the Game

The report covers all but the final battle in the session we just played, which I will report in a separate post.

Much of the first two hours of the session was spent in role-playing and exploration.

As usual I spend quite a bit of time trying to give my players a sense of their surrounding and what the various rooms would likely to have been used for, and oftentimes they engage with the description.

The interaction with Memm was fun to role-play, as while the other players were cool with him, Strigoi's player remained sceptical, and had his weapon drawn all the time. In the original module the Eresh had two other factions which would have clashed with the party, but I decided to keep just Memm (who played an important role in exposition), and to signpost that he was not someone to be trifled with, I added the detail of the two cultists who were killed.

The interaction with the Medjani likewise gave the players a chance to role-play and announce their characters' motivations, but after that it was mostly exploration.

Once again the module provided a lot of art showing the various rooms of the tombs. Not all of these had any effect on the actual gameplay, but they did a lot in my opinion to help the players visualise the Mesopotamian style, which differs from the more commonly seen Egyptian style.

I enjoyed the trap room encounter very much. Once again Leomund's Tiny Hut came to the rescue. After the game we realised that it would actually have made more sense for the party to cast the spell while standing at the centre of the room instead of at the corner, which effectively reduced the volume of the dome (and thus air under it) by 75%. Afterwards I did some googling, and it seems there was in any case more than sufficient air under the dome, but it was nevertheless an interesting example of how panic could cause people to act less than rationally.

The two combats against the mosaic monsters were short but brutal on Strigoi, who took ALL the damage as I had the monsters attack whomever dealt them the most damage. I think Strigoi's player felt it a point of pride that he 'tanked' so well that none of the other PCs took any damage at all.