Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Chronicles of the Adventurers' Guild #17

This is the account I received from the companions of Tamira Reid, who on the 18th day of Ostar, in the year 1842, descended into the crypts beneath the Ashen Hills. I hereby record their names for posterity: Kimly of Forge, Leowe Blackclaw, also of Forge, Madian Moonridge, of the University in Greyhaven, and Moonshadow the Elf (see PC profiles here), with the orc Gamdar as their bearer.

Entering the crypts, the party came upon two dragon hybrid sentries, and by means of a beguiling spell were able to interrogate them and learn of their purpose: they had entered the crypts to seek out an undead dragon, animated by the Heart of Nodros, whom they called Ossirex, and whom they worshiped as a god. They had tricked a party of mercenaries to aid them in their quest, passing themselves off as tomb robbers, but had in fact been searching for the lair of this beast, until they were thwarted in their progress by the Cultists of Nodros. They had but recently found their way into the hall wherein Ossirex had been trapped; when the mercenaries saw the undead dragon, they realised that they had been deceived, but were forbidden to leave, and instead made to excavate a tunnel to the surface to free Ossirex, that he might appear before all the dragon hybrid and unite them.

The party then resolved to used subterfuge to lure the two other dragon hybrid in the cabal out of the lair, that they may be overcomed individually, but it seemed that the magic user among them were able to break the beguiling enchantment over their brethren, and they came silently upon our heroes and sought to ambush them. A melee ensued, during which three of the dragon hybrid were slain, and the orc Gamdar fled.

Calling upon the blessings of Kellos onto herself and her fellows, Tamira led the pursuit of the remaining villain, their leader, to the hall. There, she called out for the mercenaries to lay down their arms and leave, promising them safety and the mercy of Kellos if they did, and they did so, abandoning their former master.

Entering the hall, they did battle with the dragon hybrid and Ossirex, the great undead dragon. And although with his foul sorcery Ossirex was able to raise countless skeletal warriors to aid him, our heroes were able to overcome them with the grace of Kellos.

Tamira herself plucked the stone Heart of Nodros from the chest of Ossirex, but its evil burned her hands with a coldness. Now Kellos spoke to Tamira, and told her that the Heart must be destroyed with the mace of Druentes, which Tamira wielded, but the wielder would be killed in the act too.

Despite the beseeching of her companions, Tamira resolved to do so, ignoring their pleas, and so sacrificed herself for the good of all Terrinoth.

Her remains were faithfully gathered by Leowe Blackmane, who, stricken with grief, became a blasphemer of Kellos, blaming him for not returning Tamira to life.

So the tale was told to me by the companions of Tamira, and I did behold with mine own eyes the skull of Ossirex, which was terrible in aspect.

And it is thus that I beg our holy church to build upon this site a shrine honouring our late Sister in Kellos, that her deed and the grace of Kellos may be known to all who pass.

Brother Othar, Priest of Kellos

Prepping and Running the Game

The account above of the last session in our Barrowmaze campaign is mostly false, but what I imagine the PCs would have told Brother Othar upon their return to the guild, and how he would have recorded it.

The party did come upon the dragon hybrid sentries, and they did use Charm spells on them, and learned that they had not in fact set the guild on fire (the death cultists did, but the players did not have a way to know that), and also learn their true purpose for coming to the dungeon. And then things went south from there.

They came up with the idea of using the Charmed dragon hybrids to lure more of their fellows out so that they may be tackled individually, before the party takes on Ossirex. As they needed only one of the dragon hybrid to make the plan work, they had to decide on what to do with the other one. Some of the players wanted to kill him, which I told them was something which Tamira, being a cleric of Kellos, would not agree to. In the ensuing argument, Tamira's player did not actively try to prevent this from happening, and Moonshadow's player decided that he would simply stab the dragon hybrid while the rest of the party was arguing.

I decided that Gamdar, who had volunteered to be their bearer, was so outraged by the unnecessary killing that he dropped all of the party's gear and started to walk off... and that's when they Charmed him too, tied him up, and knocked him out.

The party sent the remaining dragon hybrid back to the lair with the command to lure the others out. I decided that their leader, a sorcerer, would see through the ruse and dispel the magic, and in turn use the Invisibility and Fury Fire spells (a fireball centred around the caster) to ambush the PCs instead. In the resulting fight the PCs took a lot of damage, but were able to kill all but the leader, who fled back to the hall.

When Tamira tried to heal the party, I told her that her spells weren't working. It wasn't long before my players realised that I had ruled that Kellos had withdrawn his spells from Tamira. Tamira's player, being an old school gamer, knew what to do: he made her set up and impromptu shrine and prayed for guidance.

Meanwhile, we got into an OOC argument about whether Kellos was justified in doing what he did. The players argued that the dragon hybrids' plan to release an undead dragon would result in many deaths, and for that they already deserved death; also, in their circumstances they could not risk having a prisoner around. I argued that the PCs could have tied up the dragon hybrid, and then gone on to destroy Ossirex, which would have neutralised the threat without them having to kill a defenceless prisoner.

Eventually I let Kellos give Tamira her powers back, on a "probational" basis given the threat they all faced, but by the the mood at the table was already soured.

With her powers restored, Tamira was able to buff the party really well, and the boss fight turned out to be less exciting than I had hoped for. There was some interaction with the surroundings, as the players tried to bring the ceiling down on the skeletons - I had made some rubble counters for this expressed purpose as I imagined Ossirex would use his tail to sweep down pillars and bring sections of the ceiling down to separate the PCs - but I had the feeling that our hearts were not really in it.

Things got worse after the fight, as the players now had to decide what to do with the Heart of Nodros. I told them that Tamira was able to intuit by holding the mace of Druentes that the mace could destroy the Heart, but the wielder would be killed in the process. Tamira's player was keen to destroy the Heart there and then, while others argued for bringing it back to Brother Othar and perhaps subsequently to the church in Vynevale. Then they came up with the idea of Charming the bound Gamdar and making him do the deed for them instead so none of the PCs would have to die.

As this discussion went on Moonshadow and Kimly's players moved their characters away from Tamira as they saw what would be coming, and when it seemed like Leowe and Madian would force the issue, Tamira's player had her destroy the Heart before they could get their hands on it. There was a blinding explosion which brought more of the ceiling down, and when the dust had settled the Heart could not be told apart from the rubble.

Leowe salvaged as much of Tamira's remains as he could, hoping that the church could resurrect her, but they were unable to. We ended the campaign with Tamira being made a saint and a shrine of her being set up at the former site of the guild, and Leowe carrying Tamira's remains in his backpack and vowing to find a way to bring her back to life again.

I am deeply disappointed with how the session went and how the campaign ended. I am not yet sure when things began to spin out of my control, and when I could have effectively steered the game away from the way it went.

Charm and Command spells are always problematic in an RPG, and I do wonder if I should ban PCs from having access to them in the future.

Obviously the players saw the situations presented to them as tactical problems to be solved, and not moral choices to be made, which points to a failure on the part of the GM to present the world in a fashion that encouraged them, or rather their characters, to view the world as a place where the killing of defenceless people was something that even hardened adventurers would not do.

There is definitely a lesson to be learned here for me, although I cannot yet tell what it is.

I hope to do a retrospective of the campaign in the future, not so much on how the campaign went, but what I learned about running an open-table megadungeon using an OSR set of rules.


Andrew said...

The campaign may not have ended on a high note, but there were a lot of great sessions along the way. It's been an absolute blast to read these recap posts. I look forward to reading about whatever comes next!

captain arjun said...

Thank you, Andrew - I guess I should not just focus on the bad.

Next campaign will be an "evil" campaign, so I hope my players will learn that it takes more than murder-hoboing to be a successful villain...