Thursday, July 25, 2019

Sorcery! #10 - The Crown of Kings

Valerian is outnumbered by his former companions

Campaign Diary

The Archmage dismounted from the dragon, wearing the Crown of Kings upon his head, and ascended his throne. Then he spoke to the assembled tribes, of his aim to bring them all under one banner, bringing peace between all of them, and of Kakhabad dealing with the other kingdoms as equals. Although the assembled tribes each had their own language, they all heard him in their native tongue.

Then one by one the leader of the tribes came before him and pledge their allegiance. Morgana used her sorcery to turn herself invisible, and approached the Archmage unseen, and tried to seize the crown off his head, planning to teleport away afterwards. But even as she grasped the crown, the Archmage raised his hand and seized her by her wrist. The Archmage uttered a spell, and Morgana turned visible again. For a moment there was confusion among the guards and the tribes. Morgana tried to teleport away, but she felt he spell countered by the Archmage's.

The suddenly she felt talons grabbing onto her shoulders, and yanking her off the ground - a birdman had seized her. She broke loose from the Archmage's grasp, and held the crown!

As the birdman flew higher, Goncol loosed an arrow at him, which sank into his side. Other birdmen flew towards the first birdmen, only to be tackled in the air by more birdmen. There was a hubbub as the tribes tried to figure out what was happening. The Mampang Guards rushed forward, and Goncol and Glowulf, separated by the mass of people, each quietly slipped away.

The injured birdman bore Morgana towards the Forest of Snatta, pursued by others. He was an ally, he told Morgana, a spy working for Analand. Wounded, the birdman could fly no more than several hundred yards before he had to set Morgana down, under the canopy of the forest, which was fortunate, for now the Archmage had mounted his dragon and taken off; unable to see Morgana, he landed once more, and commanded the tribes to hunt her down and retrieve the crown.

Under the forest canopy, the birdman revealed that he belonged to the tribe of Schinn, a tribe of birdmen whose ancestral place was the volcano crater where Mampang Fortress was built - centuries ago, his people weere driven away by the Archmage and the birdmen who had allied with him, and since then the Schinn had hidden themselves among the other tribes, but had never forgotten the injury. Not long after telling this story, the birdman expired.

Alone and with no bearing, Morgana ran in what she she thought was the southerly direction. Not long after she began to hear the sounds of pursuers behind her, which at least told her that she was heading in the right direction. Then, while hiding from a party of swamp goblins, she felt a hand on her shoulder - it was Glowulf, who had managed to find the body of the dead birdman and tracked her from there. Together, the two found their way to Fenestra's hut.

When she learned of what had transpired, Fenestra cast an enchantment, causing the trees around her hut to shift, creating a maze and preventing the pursuers from finding them. There, in the relative safety, Morgana and Glowulf rested.

Back at the shore of the lake, the Archmage summoned Valerian, and asked him where he thought Morgana would head.

'Khare,' Valerian replied.

The Archmage ordered his troops to search the land between the Forest of Snatta and Khare, set Valerian in command of a party of the guards, and returned to Mampang.

The next morning Fenestra handed Morgana and Glowulf a wooden ring, which she told them held the enchantment that caused the trees to form a maze around them, and bade her familiar, a firefox, to act as their guide to the edge of the forest. As the trio set off, the trees parted before them to reveal a confused Goncol, who had retraced his step to Fenestra's hut but was flummoxed when he could not find it, and had spent the night in the open. Together, the party decided to travel to the edge of the forest, and thence to Khare.

Along the way they were attacked by Klattamen, whose shaman overcame the enchantment of the ring, but the party managed to defeat them before they could send a message to the Archmage. But when they reached the edge of the forest, they found many birdmen circling the skies above, and dust clouds in the distance, indicating the many parties that are even now looking for them.

Glowulf prayed to Fulkra, god of travelers, and asked for the safest way to Analand. The way ahead, Fulkra replied, was fraught with danger, but he may seek the aid of helpers, friends, and family.

This, Glowulf thought, meant that instead of heading towards Khare, they should head east into the Vanti-Bak Wastes, where his tribe lived, and thence to the Earth End Coast, and from there find passage by sea to Analand.

When the sun had set, the party began its journey, under the cover of darkness. For a while they managed to evade the eyes of Mampang, but in the afternoon of the next day they spied a dust cloud to their rear, which got closer with each passing hour. Soon afterwards a single birdman began to circle them. The party waited, and the birdman landed. He declared himself to be Peewit Croo, one of the Schinn. The party had been spotted by birdmen, and a party of six horsemen had been sent after them, and would reach them in less than an hour.

Unable to outrun the horsemen in the open plains, the party decided to head towards a nearby hillock. The hillock turned out to be an abandoned mine or quarry, with shafts cut horizontally into its rock faces. The party plotted, and decided to lure the pursuers into the shafts by tracking footprints into one of them before backing out, then hiding on the reverse slope of the hillock. Once the pursuers have dismounted and entered the shaft, Morgana would call upon Throff, the goddess of earth, to shake the ground with an earthquake, and bury them inside.

And so they did, and hid behind the hillock with Peewit Croo. Here they heard the horsemen come to a halt, dismount, and enter the shaft. They crept forward again, and found that one of the horsemen had remained with the horses, holding their reins - it was Valerian!

Morgana called out to Throff even as Valerian called out to his companions. The ground shook, causing the horses to bolt off, and the shaft to collapse. When it was over, the party picked themselves up.

Morgana, Glowulf, and Goncol tried to make Valerian to switch his allegiance back to Analand once more, but the former Royal Guard would not be swayed. He charged his erstwhile companions and struck Morgana a grievous blow, but outnumbered, he was wrestled to the ground by Glowulf, Goncol, and Peewit Croo. Goncol forced a potion down Valerian's throat to make him comply, and while the potion was in effect the party tied him up, rounded by the horses, and continued their journey eastwards.

As the sun began to set, they spotted smoke from cooking fires ahead - they have found Glowulf's clan. Glowulf approached the caravan, and showed the pendant that was left with him when he was found by his foster father. By the pendant the Black Elves knew he was the child of one Gloranda, who bore him out of wedlock, and left the tribe one night, never to be seen again. They asked if Glowulf wanted to learn of his birth name, but Glowulf declined - his heart was with Analand, and he would return to his adopted family.

The Black Elf Tribe had ignored Mampang's summon, valuing their freedom, and after hearing the party's story, agreed to take them to the Earth End Coast in their caravan, hidden from Mampang's spies. And so they arrived at the coast, where they managed to hail a fishing boat from Analand.

The boat took them to Gummport, in Far Analand. There, they took the long journey to Arkleton, Analand's capital city, with Valerian in chains. Even as he was brought before the chancellor of the realm, the former Royal Guard would not renounce his allegiance to the Archmage. Pleading that his mind had been charmed by the Archmage, the party begged that his life be spared, and so it was that Valerian was imprisoned in the dungeon.

To reward the heroes there would be no great fanfare or feast, for even now the news of the loss of the crown had been kept secret, but each was asked what boon they requested from the king.

Morgana asked for land and a tower, wherein she could continue her study of sorcery.

Goncol asked for a grand manor, which he planned to continue his study of wizardry, with the aim of starting a school.

Glowulf asked for a modest reward, and returned to his adopted parents, and continued the life of a fisherman.

Thus ended the tale of the quest for the Crown of Kings, and peace was once more restored to Analand.


It was several years later when Goncol, now more learned in the craft of wizardry, asked for Valerian to be delivered to his manor, that he might use his knowledge to restore the warrior's mind. But by now Goncol had been tainted by the forbidden knowledge of the evil tome from which he learned the arcane arts, and his evil magic would soon warp Valerian's mind too.

Then one morning, Goncol awoke to find the guards he set to watch Valerian slain, and the fighter gone...

Prepping and Running the Game

I am both proud and ashamed to say that this final session of the campaign had been a hidden railroad.

Now when the previous session ended my players and I were not sure how the final session would play out. One brought along a boardgame for this session, and another prepared a one-shot game, in case the session ended in an early TPK.

On my part I procrastinated on prepping the session until the day of the game.

I had asked each player to tell me privately what their PC's plan was, and I knew Morgana was going to seize the crown with the use of magic. Now I could of course have the Archmage be so powerful that he could thwart Morgana, and have a TPK, but that would have been a bad way to end a campaign. The party, or at least the three 'loyal' PCs, must escape. I decided that the birdmen of Schinn, an important faction in the gamebook, would help them do this.

Once that was decided, then the question was: where would they escape to?

The obvious choice was Khare, but that would be obvious to Mampang too, so I decided that there had to be an alternative. Fortunately, in an earlier session, I randomly decided that Glowulf's clan lived in the east, near the coast. The coastal route seemed to be a reasonable option, and to nudge the party in that direction, I counted on Glowulf using his prayer to ask for the safest route to Analand, and slipped in a semi-cryptically worded message, which had the intended effect.

As for the route they would take, I guessed that the players would want to backtrack and seek the allies they have met along the way, and so I prepped what Fenestra, The Sham, and Shadrack would do to aid the PCs. As predicted, the PCs did seek Fenestra.

Now I knew Valerian's player was not going to abandon his allegiance to the Archmage, so I needed to prepare a temporary character or two for him to play. For this I took a 'monster' from the original gamebook, a firefox, and made him Fenestra's familiar. I gave the firefox the ability to do 1d6 points of fire damage by expending 1 of its Stamina, so as to give the player a combat option, and threw a combat their way.

The second temporary character was Peewit Croo, the birdman. Once more, I gave him the ability to grapple, and therefore lift a person off the ground, and perhaps drop him from a height. With his ability for flight, I had freedom to decide where and when to introduce him to the story.

To provide another encounter for the travel across the plains, I took inspiration from an episode of Manhunt, where the protagonist stole a horse from his pursuers who have dismounted to search for him in broken terrain. I decided that a quarry or mine would fit the terrain and also give another indication that there was once a civilisation in these lands, and then once more nudged Morgana's player to employ the trick of luring their pursuers into a shaft and then burying them with a divinely-inspired earthquake by asking who else had not used their godly favour this session.

This encounter was also a neat point to reintroduce Valerian into the story, so to avoid having him buried with the rest of the horsemen, I made him a horse-holder, which allowed the party to face him for a final confrontation.

In the end, we completed the session at the usual three-hour mark.

I do not know if my players knew that the whole session had been a bit of a set-up, but we enjoyed talking about what happened after the quest so much that we eventually decided (mostly via messaging over the phone afterwards) to play a spin-off of the campaign. Glowulf's player asked for a campaign where they could go all-out murder-hobo, so I decided this would be a good opportunity to run an evil-PCs campaign.

Goncol's player had asked for a building to be granted to him, and planned to start a wizardry school. He also wanted to use his magic to 'convert' Valerian back. I had originally ended the story with Valerian disappearing from the dungeon not long after the events of the game, but now we decided that Valerian was turned over to Goncol, but that the magic would in fact warp Valerian's mind. Valerian would escape, and form a band of evil henchmen, who will avenge him by killing the other three.

We will probably use 5E instead of AFF rules for this campaign, and I imagine it will be a short one, maybe one session for each if the former PCs. Our campaign calendar is pretty packed for the rest of the year though, so it will be a while before this happens, but I am quite excited about it.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Sorcery! #9 - The Kurultai

The party is waylaid by satyrs

Campaign Diary

With a heavy heart, the party continued up the foothills of the Xamen Mouintains, towards Mampang Fortress.

Near sunset they noticed an bird of prey circling above them - it was a Goldcrest Eagle from Analand. The eagle bore a message from the king, announcing his joy at the party's progress, as well as news that spies from Analand operated within Mampang - but the identity of these spies were not revealed for fear of the message falling into the wrong hands. The party wrote a quick reply, but soon after the eagle took to the air again it was attacked by two birdmen, who then quickly fled towards Mampang.

As the sun set the party found shelter in a cave by the well-used path to Mampang, where they observed a large party of soldiers carrying banners and supplies pass them, presumably to attend the meeting of the tribes.

The next day the party continued the climb, ever wary of winged spies from Mampang. Late in the afternoon they found they way blocked by a party of satyrs, who disarmed them and led them to their village. There, they met the head of the village Sh'houri who, learning that they were enemies of Mampang, offered to show them a secret trail to the fortress.

The satyrs claimed that the denizens of Mampang hunted them for sport, but the party noticed that they satyrs had many items among them that seemed beyond their skills to make, and came to the conclusion that the satyrs probably robbed the caravans that brought goods into Mampang. Learning that the next caravan was due the next afternoon, they concocted a scheme with Sh'houri: they would pretend to be merchants headed for Mampang who were attacked by the satyrs, and then join the caravan.

The plan worked, and the next afternoon our heroes entered the gates of Mampang Fortress disguised as merchants, carrying with them two sacks of medicinal tree roots supplied to them by the satyrs.

The caravan passed through a sturdy gatehouse into the first courtyard, around which the barracks of the Archmage's guards stood. Entering the fortress, our heroes were awed by the size and scale of the fortress, which more resembled a walled city than a fortress. A large caravanserai was directly to their right, and a small army of clerks and customs officer began to quickly look through and assess the goods brought in to the fortress, as well as levy a tax on them. Beside the caravanserai stood a large stone building, which the party learned was the Covered Market.To their right there were two large buildings with tall chimneys: one was the foundry, and the other the glassworks. Carts laden with ore and firewood were led to these buildings.

On either side of the second courtyard were buildings which held numerous stores and guild houses. Beyond these were the gated residential quarters of the inhabitants of Mampang.

Far from a garrison, Mampang looked more like a thriving town.

Facing the gate, behind another layer of walls, was Mampang Tower, a large building with a dome 150 feet across, built atop a rocky rise. Several smaller towers were built along the wall, and birdmen could be seen flying in and out of some of them.

Having paid their levy, the party found accommodation at the Mampang Inn, and decided to split up to investigate the town.

Glowulf tried to enter the residential area, but was told that it forbidden to outsiders. Here, he learned, the inhabitants of Mampang lived side by side, regardless of their race or origin.

Goncol investigated a walled part of the town known as 'the Dragon's Den', and learned that it indeed held a dragon tamed by the Archmage.

Morgana took herself near the second set of walls, and found it well-guarded by the black-clad soldiers of Mampang.

Valerian marched straight to the barracks, where he told the guards he wanted to join them. He was brought to the captain of the guards, a soldier formerly from Ruddlestone, who recognised his sword, and told him that his arrival had been expected.

As Glowulf, Goncol, and Morgana tried to make their way back to the inn, they were each confronted by guards, and brought before the second gate... where they now saw Valerian arriving from the barracks with a party of guards. They party was disarmed, brought through the second gate, and handed over to the Tower Guards. Then, they were led up the flight of stairs that ascended the rock that the tower was built upon, and into Mampang Tower. They passed through the cavernous halls of the lower levels, ascended yet more stairs, and were finally brought into a chamber in one of the smaller towers that rose like minarets from the main dome. Here, seated behind a large wooden table, was the Archmage.

The Archmage bade them to sit, and asked the purpose of their journey. The party accused the Archmage of stealing the Crown of Kings and planning to raise an army to conquer Analand.

The Archmage responded to their accusation calmly, admitting that he did steal the Crown, but only because the kings of the 'civilised kingdoms' had denied Mampang's admittance into the Femphrey Alliance. The lands of Kakhabad, the Archmage said, were once home to many non-human civilisations, until the devastating invasion by Analand centuries ago, which laid waste to the lands and reduced its peoples to disunited, warring tribes. Why, asked the Archmage, should the peoples of Kakhabad be denied the benefits of the Crown, when they have suffered so much from the kingdoms? Now, with the Crown in hands, he could finally unite the tribes, end the ceaseless warfare between them, and lead Kakhabad to a new age of peace and prosperity, where they could trade and deal with the other kingdoms as equals.

Valerian agreed with the Archmage, and pledged his service to Mampang. The others, still fearing that Archmage was intent on conquering their homelands, would not be dissuaded from their quest.

To convince them of his intentions, the Archmage asked the party to attend the Kurultai, the meeting of the all the tribes, with him, so they could see and hear for themselves. The party was then escorted back to the inn, and had their weapons returned to them.

The next morning a guard arrived at the party's room, bearing the uniform of a lieutenant of the guards for Valerian, and a message to meet at the gate. At the gate, the party joined a party of guards, made up of men, Black Elves, Svinns, ogres, and goblins, carrying banners and supplies. Over the next two days the party descended the Xamen Mountains, crossed the Visclami Swamps, where a wooden causeway had been laid, and arrived at the northern shore of Lake Iklalal on the evening of the second day. Here, the party rested and ate dinner, and as the full moon began to rise, they embarked dragon-prowed boats, and began to row for the south shore.

When they beached at the southern shore they could see thousands of people already gathered on the stretch of land between the lake and Snatta Forest: Black Elves, Swamp Goblins, Centaurs, and Klattamen. Tower Guards of Mampang ringed a small area of ground before them, upon which was placed large, flat stone, and upon that an elaborate throne.

Then as the moon reached the zenith of its path, a huge winged form could be seen approaching in the night sky: it was the Archmage, atop his dragon.

Prepping and Running the Game

This session was the first one where I (and the party) departed vastly from the books.

One of the questions I asked myself after reading the original gamebook was: if the Crown made its wearer wise and just, then why would letting the Archmage have it be such a bad thing for the rest of the world?

If the Archmage merely wanted to deny the civilised kingdoms of the benefit of the Crown, then he could have just destroyed or hidden it, instead of bringing it back to Mampang, which would have made the whole quest irrelevant.

As I thought about this while preparing for the campaign, I decided that the only reason why the Archmage wanted the Crown was to do good.

I then looked at the lands of Kakhabad and tried to construct a history. Why would the inhabitants of Kakhabad speak Common and use the same currency? Without a central authority, how would Khare have been built?

I decided that in the past Analand must have tried to subjugate Kakhabad, and indeed managed to extend its borders up to the Jabiji River, where they founded Khare, both as a city for trade, as well as to project their influence into the Baklands. I imagine the invasion broke the various non-human kingdoms of Baklands, but they were still able to repel the Analanders, who fell back beyond the Shamutanti Hills, and built a wall against these 'barbarians'.

Now the idea that the Archmage would want to the Crown to unite the tribes to just invade the southern kingdoms seemed a little silly to me, so I decided that like Genghis Khan, his aim was not to conquer the world, but to unite the tribes, establish peace, and trade with the civilised kingdoms, to the benefit of all. I then decided that as one of the steps in his plan, he would summon all the tribes to a greet meeting, a Kurultai, where he would wield the power of the Crown, and gain their allegiance. This added drama to the situation, and also gave the players a ticking clock to beat.

Throughout the previous sessions I gave clues that Kakhabad was home to several lost civilisations, and that the tribes were in constant warfare. Then I made Mampang itself an oasis of peace, trade, and civilisation.

The contrast was enough to sway Valerian's player to the Archmage's side and make him reveal himself to the guards.

This of course threw me off balance, as I had expected them to infiltrate or somehow gain entry into Mampang Tower, which would lead to a climatic confrontation with the Archmage, when I would present his side of the story. So I went along, presented the Acrhmage as a reasonable person, and moved the narrative along for the session, until we reached the next natural decision point.

After I ended the session, I asked the players to separately message me to let me know what their character would in our next and final session.

Morgana's player, with Morgana being the leader of the party, still felt bound by her obligation to complete the quest.

Glowulf's player found himself in a dilemma: on the one hand he wanted to fulfill his promise to the crown of Analand, yet at the same time he was drawn to Mampang's vision. In the end, he loyalty laid with his adopted country and parents, and he would probably side with Morgana.

Goncol's player was, ironically, the one who held out the most. Goncol, he reasoned, was used to being skeptical of people's intentions, and his natural instinct was to disbelieve the Archmage, and fall back to his previous assumptions.

During the whole session we only fought a single combat, and then only for two rounds as the captain of the guards tried to assess Valerian's skills. Most of the session was role-playing and exploration, with the players slowly learning the truth about Mampang and realising that the accounts they have been given were not always accurate.

The next session will be the finale, and with a party split in loyalty, I am not sure what will happen. Should be exciting, but I am prepared that it will be a short session...

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Sorcery! #8 - The Boatman

The Water Serpent attacks!

Campaign Diary

The party continued their trek, and towards noon came upon a clearing. In the centre of the clearing was a solitary knoll. Walking around the knoll, the party found a door on its side. Morgana knocked on the door, and a voice from within the knoll bade the party to enter.

The party opened the door to find Black Elf seated at a table in the middle of the room. Before her on the table was a glowing orb. She introduced herself as Fenestra, and questioned the party and asked their purpose, and when she learned that they were enemies of the archmage and his Serpents, she cackled and offered to show them what was in the orb. Inside the glowing orb, the party now saw, was the form of a serpent made of flame.

That, Fenestra told them, was the Sun Serpent, who sought shelter at her hut during a storm, and was trapped by her magic. The Water Serpent, she explained, killed her father many years ago, and since then she had dedicated herself to the destruction of the creatures. She imparted to them the knowledge of the weakness of the Water Serpent – it cannot abide oil - and handed them two flasks of oil. The party asked Fenestra if she knew of the weakness of the Time Serpent, and she replied that she did not - although it was said that it could only be defeated by powerful sorcery.

Leaving Fenestra, the party continued on northwards along the forest track, until they came upon a wide path to the left. Examining the ground, the realised that remnants of flagstones once covered this path. They followed the path to large clearing, in the middle of which stood a large stepped stone pyramid. At the edges of the squares were fallen stone statues of goblinoid warriors, now covered by undergrowth. The party spotted a small green snake on the ground between them and the pyramid; the snake seemed to notice them also, and it began to slither towards the pyramid.

The party followed the snake as it climbed up the steps of the pyramid, and when all four of them were on the pyramid, a wall of flame rose up and surrounded the pyramid. At the same time, the snake burst into flames, and grew in size until it now towered over the party - it was the Fire Serpent! The heroes knew its weakness, but here on the stony steps of the pyramid there was no sand... except for a handful that Goncol had kept in his pouch! The thief cast the sand at the fiery form of the serpent... and missed. As Valerian and Glowulf battled the serpent, Morgana hurriedly gathered the scattered grains of the sand, and when she had done so, she cast the sand upon the serpent, and extinguished it.

The party continued on their way, and at sunset they came upon the shores of Lake Iklala. They made camp, hidden among the reeds by the shore, and when morning came they blew on a silver whistle that Fenestra had given them. The whistle gave no sound, but soon a figure emerged from the reeds nearby - it was the boatman Fenestra had told them plied the lake. The party paid the boatman his fee, and he dragged a long single-sailed reed boat out from among the reeds, and made the heroes sit astride it, and began to row the boat out into the lake.

When they had reached the middle of the lake, the boatman suddenly stopped rowing. Glowulf turned and saw his staring into the distance, and when he tapped the boatman, his form collapsed as though it was a rag doll, and out of the heap rose a sinuous whirlwind the form of a serpent - it was the Air Serpent. Balanced precariously on the reed boat, Glowulf and Goncol tried to fend of the serpent, while Morgana used a gale horn to summon up a wind to carry them to the far shore, and Valerian peddled as hard as he could. Using the serpent staff from the Sham, Glowulf managed to wound the serpent, which vanished back into the form of the boatman. As Glowulf rooted through the pile, a small snake emerged and slipped into the water. Glowulf leapt into the water after it, as did Goncol - unfortunately, the thief had forgotten that he did not know how to swim, and had to be rescued by Morgana. Meanwhile, Glowulf, raised as he were by a fisherman, quickly caught the snake, and snapped it into half.

The party returned to the boat, and Glowulf took the oars as steered it to the far shore once more. But just as they were nearing the shore, the water ahead of them began to churn. A form broke the surface, and a serpent, its form transparent as though it was made of water, emerged. But the party was prepared for it - they took out the flasks of oil that Fenestra had given them, and proceeded to splash the contents at the serpent. As the oil struck the form of the serpent, its body began to break up into globules, which for a while were suspended in the air... and then fell into the lake, and merged with the water.

Glowulf once more set the boat in its course, and it was sunset when they beached at the swampy northern shore of Lake Iklala. The party hid the boat, and entered the Vischlami Swamps. As they trekked north, the ground beneath them became drier, until at last they found a piece of higher ground where they could set up camp.

That night their rest was briefly disturbed by a party of Swamp Goblins which were heading for the lake - were they also heeding Mampang's call?

The next morning the party continued northwards, and by afternoon they could see the peaks of the Xamen mountains in the distance. Yet as they marched on, Valerian began to notice that the trees around them appeared to look... familiar. Suspecting that they may be walking in circles, the party left marks on the ground... but found themselves coming upon the same place, but without the marks!

The party also became aware that the sun appeared not to have moved in the sky - and just when they realised that they were caught in a time loop, the air before them began to shimmer as if it was heated, and then a large serpent, its body scintillating with the colours of the rainbow, materialised, and started to attack them. The party fought back, but each time their blow landed, they found themselves jerked back in time, and the wound of the serpent's body would close. But they fought on regardless, and soon even the Time Serpent's sorcery could not withstand them. The Time Serpent turned to flee, and when the heroes tried to pursue they found themselves slowed down, as the serpent flew north, towards Mampang.

When the serpent was out of sight they flow of time returned to normal, and our heroes found themselves at the edge of the swamp, at the foothills of the Xamen mountains. They have defeated five of the serpents, but failed to stop the Time Serpent. Soon, the Archmage will know of their quest.

Prepping and Running the Game

This was a combat-heavy session, as the party had to run the gauntlet of the serpents. The difficulty of each combat was dependent on whether the players knew each serpent's weakness, and whether they had the material needed to defeat it.

I tried to make each combat different by varying the environment. For the Fire Serpent, I lured the party onto stony ground where they could not easily get sand; this meant that if the first attack missed (which it did), it would take them several rounds to gather up the sand to make another attack.

For the combats on the lake, I had the PCs sitting astride a reed boat, which meant that they could not easily switch positions, and I could pick which character I wished to attack.

The Time Serpent was a powerful adversary. I ruled that once a turn it could force a reroll of a combat round, and that this power could only be negated by the ZED spell, a spell which costs 7 stamina points. Unfortunately for the players, Morgana's player did not realise this despite my hint; but fortunately for them, they rolled so well that despite the rerolls, the Time Serpent was taking a beating. I decided then to make it flee, and gave it the power to slow time down; once more the party failed to use the ZED spell, and I allowed it to escape and bring the news of their arrival to the Archmage.

During the session I continued to drop hints that the whole of Baklands was once home to great civilisations that had since fallen, and I continued to show them that the tribes were gathering, to give them a sense of the gravity of the situation, as well as the urgency. This seemed to have worked, as would become clear in the following session (which we played yesterday, and which I shall report on soon).

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Sorcery! #7 - The Sham

Campaign Diary

The party tried to parley with the Moon Serpent, but it was in no mood to talk. The Moon Serpent attacked with ferocity, and neither weapons nor Morgana’s spell seemed to wound it. Then Goncol, frustrated by the ineffectiveness of his daggers, cast a cantrip to conjure a flame in his hand, and struck the serpent with it – instantly there was a flare as the fire burned the skin of the serpent. The Moon Serpent turned its wrath on Goncol, but another attack with the fire saw it go up in bright flames that temporarily blinded the party. When their sight returned, they saw that all that remained of the Moon Serpent was a crystal orb on the ground where it had stood.

Morgana picked up the orb, and cast a spell of premonition. In her trace she saw herself walking through a forest. As she walked, she became aware that she was being stalked by an invisible foe. She tried to walk faster, but felt herself unable to move her limbs. As she began to panic, she was shaken back to her senses by the others.

Finding shelter among outcrops of rocks, the party rested for the night.

The next morning the party decided to head northeast, hoping to find the Sham, a sorceress mentioned in the scroll Glowulf had purchased from the Black Elves. However, dark clouds approaching from their east forced them to seek shelter. The party found a large ruined building standing amidst the remains of a village. Reading the inscriptions on the temple, they learned that it was a temple to Throff, the Earth Goddess. The roof of the building had long collapsed, so the party descended the flight of stairs in the main hall and entered the hypogeum, where the worship of Throff took place.

The stairs ended in a large hall, decorated by painted flagstones that are now broken by weathering. Outside, the sound of rain and wind indicated that the storm has arrived. Exploring deeper into the hypogeum, the party came upon a smaller hall. Before they could investigate the hall further, bronze doors came down over the archway they had just entered through and the archway opposite it. At the same time, the four stone pillars in the room began to twist and bend until they each attained a roughly humanoid form, and then moved to attack the party. The party’s steel weapons could do little against the rocky forms of the creatures. Realising that these creatures were probably guardians of the inner temple put here to keep non-worshippers out, Morgana immediately declared her allegiance to Throff, and the creatures stopped attacking her. Rushing to the far door, she bade it to open in Throff’s name and it did as she commanded, and the party fled through it.

The door led into a passage that ended in a small round room, at the centre of which was a small pool. Morgana approached the pool and saw that its surface was covered in scum. When she reached into the pool, the ghostly form of a skeletal figure rose up, and again the party found themselves under attack. Once more their spells and steel had little effect on the incorporeal form, and once more Goncol thought to try a different means: he poured the holy water he had bought from the Black Elves into the pool; instantly the scum receded from where the water touched, and the ghostly form faded. Soon the pool was filled with clear water. Morgana drank from the pool, and felt the blessings of Throff.

The party took a short nap, and when they awoke the storm had passed. They continued their journey towards the northeast. Late in the afternoon they came upon a solitary gnome, traveling in the opposite direction from them. The gnome demanded to know if they were friends or foes, and when they replied that they were friends, the gnome demanded a gift as a token of their friendship.
They obliged. The gnome accepted their gift, and transformed into a beautiful woman – she was the sorceress called the Sham. The Sham in turned gifted them with a vial of gas that would put to sleep the Sleepless Ram, a formidable guardian of the archmage in Mampang, a staff that would weaken the Seven Serpents, and knowledge of the weakness of the Fire Serpent. She then reverted to the form of the gnome again, and continued her way.

Near sunset the party spied a Klatta village. Curiously, only women, children, and the elderly were visible – there were no men in sight. The party made a wide berth of the village, and settled down to another night in the open.

The next day passed without event as the party continued to trek to the north. Now and then they saw the dust clouds stirred up by large bodies of men – the tribes are on the move. In the afternoon they came across old bones from hundreds of skeletons, littered across the ground. The bones were of men, elves, and centaurs, and the damage to the bones and the presence of flint arrowheads embedded in some of them told Valerian that they were crossing an ancient battlefield.

At sunset they arrived at the escarpment at the edge of the Klatta-badu Plains. Here they could see the Forest of Snatta below, and beyond that, the dark line and snowy tops of the Zanzunu Peaks. Wary of spending the night in the forest, the party settled down for the night. When the sun has set, they saw clusters of campfires to their east and their west. In eleven nights the tribes will gather at the shores of Lake Ilklala.

The next morning the party started to descend the scree to reach the forest. As they struggled to keep their balance, the ground suddenly opened up under Glowulf and Valerian, and they fell into a large pit some ten feet deep. Before they could climb out of the pit, the ground began to rumble again, and rocks leapt from the ground and struck them. They scrambled to reach the edge of the pit, but once more the ground heaved, and a giant serpent with scales that looked like rocks emerged – it was the Earth Serpent.

Morgana and Goncol jumped into the pit, and together the four heroes battled the serpent. Remembering Shadrack’s advice, Glowulf and Valerian grappled the powerful form of the serpent, and with great effort hoisted it off the earth. The serpent began to shrink to the size of a small snake, slipping out of their grasp; but before it could touch the earth again, Goncol reached out and seized it. He then thrusted the writhing snake into a glass vial, where it struggled weakly, before turning into stone.

The party hurried down the slope and entered the forest, hoping that their battle had not drawn unwanted attention.

It was a different world under the thick canopy of the forest: the air was cool and moist, and there were sounds of birds and unseen forest creatures. The party followed animal trails, heading towards the north. Soon, the party became aware that they were, true to Morgana’s vision, being followed by creatures they could not see. When he heard a rustling sound coming from his left, he lunged towards the sound, striking blindly with his sword… and felt something constrict around his sword arm – a plant had come alive, and had wrapped its vine around his arm.

Glowulf grabbed the hewing axe he had bought from the Black Elves, and with a swift stroke cut through the vine, but more vines began to wrap themselves around Valerian’s feet. At the same time, Goncol felt the claws on an invisible beast strike him across his back. Morgana panicked and ran down another trail, but was attacked by one of the another invisible beasts. For a while confusion reigned, until Goncol landed a blow against his invisible opponent and it showed its form: it was a Snattacat, a tiger-like creature that could turn invisible at will. Glowulf managed to free Valerian, and together the party soon slew one of the Snattacats, and the other one retreated.

Prepping and Running the Game

Most of the encounters in this session came from the original gamebook/module, but the Temple of Throff mini-dungeon was re-designed to make it more interesting.

This was an action-packed session in terms of combat, but I also did two things that were important to the whole story: I gave the players the sense that the tribes were on the move, and that something momentous was about to happen, and I also tried to impress upon them that the Baklands was a region that saw warfare between the various races and tribes that dwelt there - this last part would have bearing later in the story.

While the session was light-hearted as usual and saw the usual jokes and banter, the gravity of their quest had become more apparent to the players. For a while they discussed whether they should try to rouse the tribes against the archmage, or to ambush the archmage as he came to Lake Ilklala, but they eventually decided to continue traveling to Mampang as originally planned. This was a bit of a disappointment to me, as I was fully prepared to let them take control of the direction of the quest, and I was also hoping to not have to prep the whole fortress, which would take quite a lot of effort on my part.