Monday, 14 November 2011

Down the Water Spout: The Sand and the Dead it Left in its Wake - Part 2


Chapter Four
What're You Farrowing Looking At?

“And lo, let there come a time after one thousand sunsets, when nothing exists but the dust and the sand. When all is gone but the primitives who know not the legacy they breed. Let the faithful be fallen, and let the unfaithful be cursed, and let the blood of both be spread about the land.
And lo, after ten thousand sunsets let the prophecy be fulfilled. Let grief break the soul of a man of steel, and in his grief may he seek solace with the queen. May the man of steel exile those faithful to him, and corrupt those who doubt, and may the dark magics infect the land to bring together the blood of the faithful and unfaithful alike.
And lo, the blood shall turn back time, and all will blossom again.”
- Partial, possibly bastardized translation of ancient Caeorian texts.

Ok, so this session the group set about trying to find a way to foil the King's plan. We unanimously agree that we have to make sure that the descendants of the drow generals are secure, despite the DM trying to imply that we should we doing something else. However, every time we attempted to contact one of the descendants there would be a strange throbbing sound, followed by the appearance of the reincarnated Farrow, with all his deadly powers.

Farrow forces us to do battle with duplicates of our characters, which proves rather challenging as each battle was a one on one. Intermittent with these encounters, its finally revealed that Nero is actually the Kings brother, explaining why everyone was always acting shifty around him. As the DM later pointed out, this was meant to be a massive WHAM moment that we were supposed to uncover ourselves, but either through our fault or the DM's, it never worked out that way. Something I'll have to take note of for when I do my next campaign. We also find out that the whole affair appears to be a scheme to fulfill the ritual to incarnate Lolth.

After several encounters the group decides to commender an airship to attempt to gain the high ground advantage. Rather than attempt to persuade the aviators, Megi and Azreal decide the best bet is just to murder people for it. It's all for naught though, as once again Farrow shows up to burst our proverbial bubble and send us crashing back to the ground.


Chapter Five
Chasing Shadows with Light

“The al'Kah citadel had numerous defenses. The standard unclimbable walls, towers, battlements, portcullises, boiling oil. During the King's madness however, it had become increasingly difficult to find many soldiers willing to take guard duty. Most had fled to join the various opportunistic city states, or become mercenaries. The King had to come up with a new solution. Fortunately his recent pact with the dark arts meant that he could summon a shield capable of holding back all those who were not of his blood.
Blood though, as we know, liked to make its own rules in Caeoria.”
- James Mycroft – Magic fortifications I have had the pleasure of Adapting.

Enough was enough. Word had just come in that the plan had pretty much failed and Cardia, Jingo and the rest had all fallen prey to Farrow and had been captured. It was decided an all or nothing assault on the keep was required. The gates were sealed by a magical shield, but our wilely ways allowed us to scale the wall, impossible though it may seem. Zantir used her magic pipes again to dominate the guards, but it wasn't long before more arrived. Nero gets taken prisoner and the rest of the group get thrown over the wall, back into the sand.
A new approach was needed. Cardia may have been captured, but her mask was likely still free. Knowing that combining the two could unleash great power, Zantir, Azreal and Megi all head to the swamps, and are greeted once again by Cardia's former aide. Without Cardia the undead had now all gone nuts, but were no match for the now seasoned fighters.

The swamp folk reveal that Nero has power over his brothers magics, and if invited into the keep verbally, the group will be able to walk right in. Farrow had to be dealt with first though, and had once again hunted them down. Combining the masks creates three magic rings from the jewels in the eyes, as well as grants the wearers unique items. Zantir gets armour, Megi a staff, and Azreal a... *sigh*... new 'smashy board'. This gives them the edge over Farrow, who draws his power from a giant crystal. One combat encounter later and the dieing Farrow regains his humanity, leaving a final message for Nero.

Chapter Six
Scene Missing

“Why didn't you tell me earlier? It now all makes perfect sense!”


Chapter Seven
The Amazing Journey of Thomas Armstrong

“Incident Report 15-05-2011. T. Armstrong. Haz. Lab 74. Fallowfields Site. Strange occurrence in the lab today. One of the cultures quarantine had been breached, or so it seemed. While the integrity was at one hundred percent, somehow a sandy or dusty substance had appeared within. No conclusion as to how it got there, but the entire lab had to be purged just in case.

Incident Report 20-05-2011. T. Armstrong. Haz. Lab 77. Fallowfields Site. Another occurrence today, now more serious, one of the technicians reported hearing voices in a totally quarantined lab. Checked comms and they all checked out. Coincides with reports from other labs too, but they were dismissed. Winters swears blind that the voices were not on the comms and came from outside his suit. Comms pick up the voices too, but the dialect is indistinguishable. Possible Terrorist threat. Report Filed. Lethal defenses requested.

Incident Report 24-05-2011. F. Gordon. Haz. Lab 77. Fallowfields Site. Serious security breach. Strange environmental occurrence in one of the labs while technician Armstrong was present and armed. Strange light based anomalies and wind/rain like anomalies. Armstrong was engulfed but no remains suggest he was removed somehow. Armstrong possibly linked with Terrorist threat. Report Filed.”

It was time to assault the keep proper this time. Megi had managed to sneak her familiar into the keep to get an invitation from Nero to allow the defenses to be breached. Inside, Raz al'Kah looms sinisterly from balconies, awaiting the group's approach. Checking the dungeons, they manage to find Nero who'd been pacified by the King through large quantities of opium. Consequently Nero was of little use beyond incredibly stoned stuttering. Further investigation leads to the discovery of a guy in a hazmat suit.

This is where it all starts to get a little hazey, and science fictioney. We're told that Tom was a lab technician working in a microbiotics lab somewhere near Manchester. Its unclear if this was supposed to be linked to the story, the main explanation behind it, or just an excuse for the DM to get some use out of his Mr Freeze model. Regardless, Tom is freed and grants Zantir the use of the gun, to which I decide to have her shoot Tom on the basis that Zantir judged him clearly out of his mind. The DM decided to give him story based invulnerability however, and my attempt to cauterize the non fantasy elements failed. Moving on though, Raz still awaited.
Encountering him naturally consisted of Diplomacy-Mad Ramblings-Combat Encounter. And this time the combat encounter was to consist of a goddess herself.



Chapter Seven
Habeus Scorpus

“Through the winds of the asteral planes! To the edge of the immaterial! A call went out. Was it conscious? Was it unconscious? Who can say? But it summoned our hero from his eternal slumber, to hark the call. The call of Ioun! He was needed, Oh brave and fearless Damon. Justice needed to be served one more time. How better to serve eternity than to return to his friends to grant them the power. His power. Ioun's searing light would purge the shadows all across the lands of Caeoria.
While the company of heroes battled the great spider queen's avatar, their plight almost helpless. Damon returned, for a fleeting moment, and gave them the power of the light. It is said that all across the land, sleeping children heard his battle cry:
'Cascade of Light Bitches!'”
- 'Tripshot' Murphy – The New Adventures of Damon: The Adventures of Damon Volume 3

Lolth rises, a big spider woman thing you'd exactly expect her to be. Rather fittingly the DM decided to represent her as one of the Transformers range, not sure which one, but it was female and a spider so actually worked really well as a visualization.

The battle took a lot of hard graft. First the group had to face Raz and Lolth's avatar. In true RPG style the battle is always more than it initially looks, and upon defeat the avatar transformed into a vision of Jingo, and upon his defeat into a vision of Cardia, and so forth. Since this was the final battle we threw everything we had at her, and for balance as usual the DM would come up with a few things to even the playing field. Restoring some of our powers and having a visitation of the recently deceased Damon pop by to grant us all the use of his overkill power, Cascade of Light.

Finally the evil was put to rest, the land restored and the day saved. Jingo, Cardia and the others arrive to polish off any final plot holes, conveniently sweeping Tom down a portal shaped one. Through rules of regicide Jingo claims the crown, avoiding any Scorpion King comparisons. Megi, Zantir and Azreal are rewarded with wealth, and Jingo commands Nero to go and travel and have other adventures, with Cardia deciding to tag along as well.

Unsure as to how long this session was going to take I'd planned a 'done in one' Campaign which we never got time to do. May turn it into a short story, so watch this space and you might soon see 'A funny thing happened on the way to Andavia'.



In conclusion, I enjoyed the campaign. Could have been more consistent.

“Regicide. Seen as a dirty word by some, but still a legitimate method of securing the throne. Not many were happy with Jingo's ascension, not least the neighboring nations that had to cope with the unreasonable fact that they had to become diplomatically involved with a centuries old Elf/Scorpion hybrid. Things calmed down in Ceaoria itself, but as always, its future was as certain as its own shifting sands.”
Zantir Xanderfell – Caeoria: The Land the Gods Forgot

“Azreal returned to Andavia with the wealth rewarded to him for his deeds in Caeoria, which was almost immediately reclaimed by his order. Shortly after, his affairs would mostly involve menial tasks at the chapter house. Things would begin to escalate however. In need of action that would put him back in good graces with the order, Azreal soon found himself wound up in politics, a messy and dangerous world for a paladin.”
- Tomas of the order of Bahamut – Oh Shining Day!: The Exalted of Bahamut

“Megi's standing in court was almost insufferable for her contemporaries. Farrel had never made any excursions into Caeorian territory and now a this young upstart mage had walked right into a regime change, singlehandedly increasing the nations standing to an otherwise unknown state. With the political climate in flux Megi had achieved the image of a major player within the space of a couple of months. Her success was to be a double edged sword though, as the cutthroat environment of Farrel's society would have a way of turning back on her.”
- Crispin Lennon – I Don't Want to Spoil the Party: Famous Farrelites

“'Caeoria: The Land the Gods Forgot' became a small time literary sensation amongst the realms of man. Zantir, despite her beginnings, had become the talk of many a nobles court, and was soon in demand as a biographer. Zantir wanted nothing to do with these people, and hated that fact that these people, who she was attempting to be in contempt of, became her biggest fans. She withdrew from the limelight for a while, until former soldier Jocasta Lacroix began pestering her to investigate corruption within the Knightly orders. Events would soon show there was more to this suspicion than simple corruption.”
- Rupert Brooks – Voices in the Darkness: The early realms Chroniclers

“As for Nero Celesious Kah. Well... the man had seen more than a man had any right to see. His nation torn apart, his family destroyed. Jingo never intended him to be outright exiled, but Nero took it as such, ultimately seeing it for his own good. Stories of the exiled prince soon began to circulate. Some said he would travel the land doing good deeds, while others claimed he would simply be found drowning his sorrows in intermittent inns. Whatever the truth, Nero still had a full life ahead of him, and a warrior of his skills would find it difficult to stay away from destiny for too long.”
- Bostock Conroy – Family Histories

So that was that. Next stop my campaign, which has multiple player characters, dozens of NPC's, meandering quests and a globe trotting story. Its either going to be brilliant or crash and burn horribly. Can't wait, see you then!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Too Damn Hot Today: The Sand and the Dead It Left in its Wake - Part One

“When the offer came to investigate strange goings on in Caeoria It seemed as though providence was smiling on me. There was little reported on the collection of city states stranded in the middle of a harsh desert, so any information I could obtain to put to paper would be of great interest to scholars and librarians the realms over. It would also make me a lot of money. The reality of the experience however... well, lets just say that had I known what these 'strange goings on' would escalate to, I'd have probably stayed in Andavia.
What we did discover in Caeoria though, I can safely say, was widespread systematic corruption running all the way to the top. Backwards through time.”
- Zantir Xanderfell – Caeoria: The Land the Gods Forgot


Here we are again. Another new campaign, another opportunity for a well made plan to go out of the window, for both the characters and the DM. This would now be our forth campaign, my third playing a character, and like the others it was dogged with the problem (which Penny Arcade readers will be abundantly aware) of trying to get four men in their twenties together for one night a week which doesn't involve a pub. The DM's own planning for the campaign was pretty tight, but we would go weeks and sometimes nearly a month between sessions, making it hard to remember what the plan was. We all tried our best though. The roots for this campaign began at the end of the last, with two new characters arriving at Damon's funeral. The first, and arguably most important was the DM's guest NPC, Nero.

“Ask anyone about Nero and they'll tell you there just wasn't something quite right about him. For an adventurer I mean. He certainly had the skills, the smarts for the job. As a ranger he was as good as I've seen. But his attitude, he had this sort of... too perfect a hero sort of aura. I mean most adventurers have a part of them that want to do the right thing, or at least work for someone who wants to do the right thing, but by and large its a full time job for them. The average adventurer is in it for the money and the treasure and the respect. They won't go out there and rescue some princess without the expectation that they're going to get some nookie at the end of it.
But Nero he was different, like the money and the respect and all that didn't mean a thing to him, he was out to do the right thing. Which meant that he was either part of that rare breed that are genuinely honest or stupid and out there to do good deeds for the sake of doing them, or he had some serious funding coming from somewhere.”
- Unknown – From an interview in Who's Who of the Realms

Nero was a human ranger hailing from Caeoria, a far away desert land occupied by an apparently Scottish accented culture. Nero was styled to be similar in looks and mannerisms to David Tennant, hence the Scottish accent. The DM dropped the accent about half way into the first session, which I thought was a shame, but he was the boss. Like Megi in the last campaign, Nero being a DM character meant that he didn't get much room to express his personality, and we'll touch upon this later because Nero had a BIG SECRET that we were supposed to uncover gradually, but ended up not coming out as planned.

“ Zantir Xanderfell. Cultist. Militant. Politician.. Journalist. As far as careers go she's had a rather varied one. Part of a minor race of green skinned 'dark elves' who lost their souls due to a centuries old elven curse. Like most of her contemporaries, the fact that her soul had now passed on to the astral plane for judgment meant that any actions they now took within life had no bearing on what fate awaited their souls. She fell in with the usual group of raiders and deviants, with the usual 'fallen elf' fair of spikes, straps, whips, clips, zips and chains. This went on for a couple of centuries.
Eventually though Zantir would become one of the few to turn to good rather than evil, since extremes of either would have no bearing on whatever treatment her soul would be getting from the divine. She turned to politics, and was an instigator of the Reunification Wars, which in the end achieved very little beside even more strained relations between the elves. She was finally double crossed and deposed by a goblin general. Disgusted by how the political system had let her down, Zantir left to chronicle and publicize examples of corruption throughout the realms. Prior to Ceaoria, she had already exposed illegal peddling of opiates by those high in Andavain society, overcoming the prejudice that the human city had originally shown her.”
- Rupert Brooks – Voices in the Darkness: The early realms Chroniclers

Never being one to sit on a character for more than one campaign, I switched again to a new one. Zantir came from a wide range of influences. I'm ever nostalgic for the old Baldurs Gate/Icewind Dale games, especially that you could choose outlandish skin colors regardless of the race you picked. I'd wanted to create a green skinned elf lady since playing Age of Wonders years ago, but never got the opportunity.
I'd started playing Age of Wonders again on a nostalgia trip, and created Zantir as a player character. When our campaign began I wanted to have a try with bard, but she didn't seem to be the lute playing type. So I made Zantir essentially a female, green , elf version of Christopher Ecclestone's character from Our Friends in the North. A disillusioned individual that turned to journalism to expose the failings of the system that let them down. Also, I have just realised that we're two characters in and both are based on ex Doctor Who actors!

“Megi was now well respected in Farrelite society. If she wished she likely could have lived off her status, comfortable and content. She knew better though, since on Farrel, if your not constantly out finding ways to keep above your rivals, you'll end up with a knife in your back. Having been recently associated with Damon of Ioun, she had met with the mysterious Nero who offered a grand adventure in the faraway land of Caeoria.. Looking into the records of the Farrel grand library, Megi found that Caeoria was practically untapped for its arcane mysteries.
In the interim before the expedition, Megi cavorted around court, partaking in the usual mental and social shadow boxing that Farrel was notorious for. Her rank and status meant that she could obtain many diplomatic documents that meant traversing the nations would not be a problem, and that she would be shown the due respect, or so she expected. On a foggy Farrel morning she set sail to rendezvous with Nero, palms tingling with the anticipation of what power would be up for grabs.”
- Crispin Lennon – I Don't Want to Spoil the Party: Famous Farrelites

Now no longer a DM character Megi was on top form, and by top form I mean doing everything she could to get first dibs on loot. Unsurprisingly her player was the same who had Trust in the earlier campaigns. Megi did fortunately have her diplomatic status to get us out of (or in to) a few problems, but by and large most of the time the other characters couldn't shake the feeling she was trying to stay one step ahead of everyone else. Despite the fact that it was Zantir who was the 'dark' one and supposed to essentially have a sadistic streak, in the face of Megi she was positively the grounded one. As with Trust before her, torture and murder was the order of the day, and it still didn't get us any further in the long run.

“Azreal of the Order of Bahamut. You are accused of the following sins against the Church of Bahamut: Gambling. Gambling with estates and property bestowed upon you by the church. Gambling and losing estates and property bestowed upon you by the church. Sentence: Demotion to Paladin Errant. You will not be granted replacement lands proportioned to those lost lost. Recommended penance: Follow the orders creed of performing good deeds of valor and charity, and if possible obtain funds with which the church estates can be repurchased. You're current judgment is pending. For the great Blue Dragon God, go in glory.”
- Holy Order Decree sealed by Chief Justicar McNulty

Our final player decided to switch back to Azreal this chaplain after finding Lerissa the warlock a little difficult, however he soon met with more frustration as Megi, despite being a mage, seemed to be able to take more damage than Azreal could, and he was supposed to be the tank. Personality wise, this was the same old Azreal, saying very little and voting for the most direct, violent course of action possible. Hitting things with his “smashy board” as he would put it.

So thats our line up, and the campaign begins proper at Nero's behest.


Chapter One
Baby It Could Be Worse

“The land of Ceaoria was not a nation as such but more of a collection of states. While ruled by a king, the prime responsibility of administration was left to rulers of the separate cities. It was fortunate then that when madness gripped King Raz al'Kah after the death of his wife that the cities could continue to function independently without his guidance.
Not so fortunate however was that in his grief and dabbling with ancient magic, the King had cursed the nation with a plague of undead wanderers, mindless and deadly. To compound matters, several of the independent rulers jumped at the opportunity to expand their own mini empires.”
Zantir Xanderfell – Caeoria: The Land the Gods Forgot

Our session begins with Nero regrouping with his former mentor Farrow, who is suffering from a deadly poison. A solution is proposed by obtaining the antidote from local cleverman Viqtor Zheng, who resides in the cities library. Despite the obvious signposting, Megi is convinced that it can be circumnavigated by simply killing Farrow then bring him back using a raise dead ritual. After some heated debate, Nero states that the death magic within the poison would negate such a ritual. Megi eventually drops the idea, but this would not be the last time she'd try and get round a problem by suggesting this solution.
Once the group arrive at the library, they find Zheng wrapped in grief. It turns out that his baby son had been kidnapped by local despot and nutter Marix. Megi once again suggests offing Zheng and looking for the antidote themselves, and while supposed paragon of justice Azreal sees no problem with this, Nero is starting to think that recruiting Megi was not such a good idea after all. During this sequence, our DM full on dramatised Zheng's tearful state, to such a point that we were all unsure what was in game and what wasn't. Brilliant.
The son had to be obtained from Marix, so the group then head to his city, Marix, which does not fill you with confidence in a mans sanity. Through the desert a few of the dead need to be contended with, and upon arrival at the city fail to convince the guards to let them in. Megi tries to flaunt her diplomatic papers, but in the end it falls to Zantir to use her magic pipes to dominate the guards and let them pass. When they meet Marix, they find he'd covered the baby with tattoos, and babbles nonsense about dark prophesies, as these types of people do, and is suspiciously mistrustful of Nero.
The session finishes with Marix eventually agreeing to part with, but would only do so if someone would stay with him. Zantir agrees to stay, on the grounds that she seems to be the only one to take his stories seriously.


Chapter Two
I'm sorry but I haven't got a Clue

“The swamp people are an affront to civilized society. They have no concept of trade or economy, and no practice at all regarding hygiene. They do not recognise their betters and have still not submitted to leadership of an organized government. They call themselves Caeorians but they have no right to use this name. Living side by side with those 'frog people' they contribute nothing but the spread of superstition and paganism. Worse of them all is this so called 'Queen of the Zombies', who says that the walking dead can be tempered and put to good use. It is the work of devils, and they are a hellish people.”
Lester Gryphon – An open letter to the people of Ceaoria regarding the occupation of the marshlands.

Zheng grants the antidote in return for his son, and Farrow is cured. Fortunes turn however when Farrow falls foul of the Kings curse, and instead of rising to life, he returns to undeath, as a deadly wraith like being. The group are forced to do battle with the now unreasonably powerful Farrow, who even has the power to summon Zantir to the location in an attempt to destroy her too. The group manage to force him back, and he fades into the mists, promising to return.
This leaves Nero as now sole leader of the resistance. In an attempt to combat the undead hoards, the group travel from city to city in search of allies, only to mainly find opportunistic bureaucrats with ambitions of turning on each other. Zantir contributes blueprints of Katie's airship from my last campaign, in the hopes that the nations air force can be bolstered, but again this just results in the leaders seeing a more effective way to double cross each other.
After a few close shaves while traveling, word is finally heard of a strange people living in the swamplands, who apparently have the knowledge to control the undead. Heading to the marshlands, they are contested by a few of the regions strange creatures before they meet the populace proper. Cardia, the so called queen, reveals she has a magic mask that can control the living dead, but she is not willing to give it up. Fortunately she gives them the location of another such mask, in the caves on the far side of the desert.
Within the caves though, awaits something not quite human. Something in the darkness, large, and pinchey.


Chapter Three
The Benedicuts Tedium

“To look at them would reveal no unusual qualities, they would be indistinguishable from the average human, but the Caeorian nobility concealed a secret and deadly bloodline. Centuries ago the drow elves lived on the surface of Caeoria, within the center of an endless jungle. During their time of dominance they conducted spectacular and profane rituals to their god Lolth. All things must come to an end however, and a brutal feud with followers of the Raven Queen resulted in the extermination of most of the areas plant life and the majority of the drow themselves. They persisted however, one way or another, turning their back on their dark god or interbreeding with the human populace. By the current era most of the drow are all but gone, but their legacy continues, one way or another.”
- Gabriella Burke – Mapping the Realms Underdark: Appendix A

The scorpion creature is revealed to be Jingo, a remnant of the drow empire and once one of its foremost lieutenants. He has since mutated into essentially a scorpion version of a drider, but retains his mind, and more importantly his humanity. Jingo fills in some of the blanks, revealing centuries ago he and his fellow generals were working on a ritual to incarnate Lolth in the physical realm. He agrees to part with the mask, which Zantir feels is in her best interests to keep hold of rather than Mrs Evil Plan and Captain Indifferent. The masks power is put to the test, allowing control of the undead it looks upon, and could be further enhanced when fire is used to create a spotlight of sorts.
Further investigation of the plagues source leads to a hive of blind monks hiding in catacombs below a ruined church. These as it is revealed are what are left of the followers of the Raven Queen, and the only one to retain some of his mind, Benedict, relates more of the tale. Took us a while though, since I feel the DM really hadn't planned exactly how he wanted us to uncover the plot, he didn't want to hand it to us outright. Turns out the blood of the drow scattered throughout the populace has a desire to reunite itself, which would complete the incarnation ritual, it was this reason that the king unleashed the curse, in an attempt to capture those of the blood.