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After a near-5-year hiatus, the kids (Impus Major and Impus Minor) have demanded that family game night return to Pathfinder. It's been hard, as I've been running 3 other campaigns, NobodysWife is running a campaign, Impus Minor's abortive attempt to run Mummy's Mask ended after only a handful of sessions, and Impus Major is being utterly crushed (in spirit) by homework, because, y'know, being a sophomore in high school means you shouldn't have any free time at all, right?
So I told them: "I'm retiring from running 2 of my other campaigns. I'm not going to spend any time at all prepping. On Tuesday nights, I'll just read the section you're in, run it ad hoc, and that's all I'll promise."
They both perked up and are ecstatic that we're doing Pathfinder as a family again.
We'll see how long that lasts when they see just how convoluted a tale an unprepared GM can end up telling.
On the other hand, it's Strange Aeons. "Last session was all a dream" is pretty much par for the course, so I figure I've got some leeway here. Let's see how it goes...
Aaaand here we go:
Name of PC: Hans Zweigar
Player: NobodysHome (GMNPC)
Race/Gender: Human Male
Class: Possessed Shaman
Familiar: Skitters the Mongoose
Background (if any): Virtually none whatsoever. I gave him the Sensitive Mind trait (seems appropriate for a possessed shaman), but otherwise I'm letting him be a "blank slate" the other players can use to enrich their own background details.
Since we don't remember our backgrounds, I figure it'll be more fun as the AP plays out for the PCs to remember little facts about their pasts as we move on. We'll see how that works out as well...
Name of PC: Blackwing III (but who's counting?)
Player: Impus Major
Race/Gender: Tengu Male(?)
Background (if any): Pity poor Blackwing. Impus Major originally created him for our Council of Thieves game back when the kids were tired of being "good guys" and wanted to try an "evil campaign". Turns out that if your characters are evil and behave in-character, they have no reason at all to help a bunch of would-be rebels, and the AP peters out. Go figure. I was proud of their roleplaying, but it did kill the AP almost instantly.
So Blackwing I lasted a few sessions, and was utterly hilarious in hoarding shiny pebbles, hissing at his fellow PCs, pecking bad guys, and otherwise proving that a tengu necromancer is indeed something to be laughed at.
When Impus Minor started Mummy's Mask, Impus Major decided to bring back Blackwing as Blackwing II. Still a necromancer, still addicted to shinies, his high point was gaining control of an undead cat swarm. Then, Impus Minor stopped running...
So now Impus Major takes it as a personal challenge: "I'm going to get Blackwing to double digits, darn it!"
Considering he's never gotten past 3rd level, that's quite a task.
Let's see whether he can make it in Strange Aeons, or whether Blackwing finally graces an obit page...
Name of PC: Neirida
Race/Gender: Human Female
Class: Blood Rager 1 (Aberrant Bloodline)
Background (if any): Leave it to NobodysWife to come up with epic background after epic background. After the magnificence that was Raesh, she's come up with another compelling back story that I can really sink my teeth into.
I'll let her elaborate if she so chooses, but Neirida was a young peasant girl in Ustalav, living a happy, carefree life until "somebody" kidnapped her, tore her apart, and stitched her back together as a weapon. Her mind was utterly blank, and she was a virtual automaton until she awoke in the asylum. She now has flashbacks of her life as a "real" human, but that is always tinged with rage. She is compelled to protect the beautiful and the good, and destroy that which would threaten them. It reminds me a lot of Universal Soldier: "Yeah, you made me a weapon, but *I* am strong enough to remember my humanity."
An utterly cold die at the start of the campaign frustrated her no end, but holy cow did the die catch on fire later in the evening, turning her into the engine of destruction she was meant to be.
Totally awesome character. Again!
And in utter silliness, at a certain point in the game Neirida threatened to cut off Blackwing's "arms, or wings, or whatever it is you call them."
Impus Major declared them "warms" (rhymes with "arms") and renamed his character Blackwarm. We are, of course, ignoring the name change, leading to even more fun as Black
wingwarm constantly corrects us.
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I knew a guy named Hans Zweigar. :-)
I was thinking German to go with the Gothic theme of Ustalav, so "Hans" seemed like a reasonable name. Then as a possessed shaman, I decided to translate "two minds" from German. The result was a bit long, so I shortened it to Zweigar.
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Session 1: Bad Dreams and Doppelgangers, played 20-Feb-2017
The whole thing left a bad taste in everyone's brain. It seems like a neat, exciting way to start an AP. In practice, it just makes one player feel bad.
Other than that, my players did their usual schtick of messing up the AP and forcing me to work on the fly. We went into initiatives in the basement, and Blackwarm was able to get the keys and open the door before Dr. Scaen had killed Campre, and Neirida, who happened to be in the cage with Blackwarm (random rolls) managed to trip Dr. Scaen so she couldn't finish the job. So, the party had a living Campre to take with them, making getting past the guards at the chapel MUCH easier.
Even worse was Neirida's 29 Perception roll to hear the rocks moving as the first doppelganger tried to pretend to be a trapped, helpless nurse. Once that ruse failed, the rest of the doppelgangers going prone to try to pretend to be victims... did not go well.
Part I: The Dream
The four strangers found themselves in a dark alleyway, a sickly yellow fog pouring over the rooftops and up the alley and rapidly approaching them. Strange indistinct shapes were visible within the mist, and the sound of footsteps and sharp metal scraping on stone approached. Neirida reached for her weapon, only to find that not only did she not have a weapon, but she had no pants on, either. GM Note: I changed the rules slightly here: Instead of the PCs getting to pick the 1d4 items they had, they got to roll 1d4 to see whether they had a particular item. Because otherwise, a blood rager with a greatsword might kill the "boogey man" with a good crit, and that would have been a bit more than anticlimactic. Helden pointed at her and laughed at her lack of pants, so Neirida chose to punch him instead of fleeing the mist. Helden first checked to see whether he had any weapons (he had a scrub brush and a dish rag in his hands), then decided: In perhaps the defining moment for poor Hans, Impus Minor said, "I wait until after the old man goes."
We have NO IDEA why Impus Minor decided Hans was "old". His pawn has very light blonde hair (he has Ulfen blood in him), so maybe he saw the grizzled face and near-white hair and decided "old", but boy, did THAT come back to haunt me.
Hans ran away (I figured he should at least follow the intent of the AP here). Helden followed. Blackwarm pondered for a moment, then followed. The mist enveloped Neirida, the "Boogey Man" got all of his attacks, and she was one-shot. As I mentioned, this did not go over well. As she died, her body moaned, "Meeeeeeeeeeee..." and the word was written on the wall in blood.
The next round Blackwarm was the one who took the time to cast Mage Armor on himself, allowing the mist to overtake him and getting dropped to negative hit points. At the end of the round, Helden and Hans were at a dead end and the "Boogey Man" appeared, snapping Blackwarm's neck as he approached them. Blackwarm's corpse uttered, "Uuuuuuuuuuuuuup..." and the word was written on the wall. Hans had nothing but an oven mitt, but a natural 20 meant he actually punched the "Boogey Man" for damage. This was getting silly. The "Boogey Man" next killed Hans, putting, "Saaaaaaaaaave..." on the wall. Helden failed his Will save, so blood started streaming from his eyes and nose as he heard the word, "Wake" in his mind.
I gave Impus Minor 30 seconds to solve the puzzle. It took him under 10. He got, "Save me! Wake up!", which was *almost* correct, and I have it to him. NobodysWife had written, "Wake up! Save me!" on her character sheet, just to show she know the situation.
Part II: The Cellar
The group woke up in a set of cramped cells in a dark basement: Neirida and Blackwarm were in a cell together, whereas Helden was in the cell next to them, and Hans was in the cell across from them. A man lay tied with rough ropes to a table in front of them, covered with dozens (if not hundreds) or crude incisions all across his body. A "nurse" with half a gardening shear stood over him, obviously pondering where to make the next cut. Neirida immediately yelled, "Stop that!" and started banging against the bars. The nurse turned, morphed her face to look exactly like Neirida's, and said, "Pipe down! You'll have your turn soon enough!"
As she turned to return her attention to Campre (the victim on the table), he lashed out with a leg he'd loosened, kicking her against the bars of Neirida and Blackwarm's cell. Unfortunately, Neirida missed her grapple attempt, and Blackwarm missed with a Ray of Frost. "Doctor" Scaen returned to the table to stab Campre, but not before he kicked her once again, knocking her keys loose and on the floor in front of Neirida and Blackwarm's cell. Of course, both of them failed their Perception checks to see the keys, but Hendel and Hans saw the keys, and frantically waved at them to retrieve them.
In an unfortunate series of, "Initiative trumps what was written" events, Blackwarm got the keys and opened the cells, allowing Neirida to rage, move up to Dr. Scaen, and grab a weapon. Dr. Scaen tried to coup de grace Campre, giving Neirida an attack of opportunity to trip her, preventing her from killing Campre outright. It got worse. Blackwarm freed Hans, who also ran up and grabbed a weapon, so when Dr. Scaen tried to stand up to finish the job she got crit by a raging blood rager (never fun) and hit by Hans. Her damage to Campre wasn't enough to kill him outright, and the next round saw her dropped by a determined group. Hans' last-minute Cure Light Wounds saved Campre, so the party had one extra NPC to proceed.
The moment they killed her, the recognized her as not human.
Campre explained their situation: They were in Briarstone Asylum, a facility that, up until a few days ago, had been the pinnacle of patient care. Unfortunately, one of their own patients had turned against them, and led many of the other patients in an uprising. Aided by patients and orderlies-turned monsters, they quickly slaughtered most of the staff. Those who had tried to flee outside were slain as well. Only Winter Klazcka, cleric of Pharasma, had prevented wholesale annihilation by leading a group of patients and orderlies to the temple of Pharasma on the first floor of the building. There, she organized a stout defense against the attackers, and managed to keep a ragtag group of rebels (yeah, I had to say it) alive and well-defended in the chapel. If the group could get Campro to the barricades, he could probably get them inside.
They searched the cellars, found their gear in a discarded heap on the floor, and chose to burn the body of Dr. Scaen. The only exit was a door to the east, through which they heard sniffing and scrabbling.
In the "most touching moment so far" category, they opened the door to allow Skitters, Hans' familiar, to rejoin him. Neirida was utterly charmed by the creature, and was delighted when it allowed her to scratch it (him) behind the ears, and he even licked her finger. Blackwarm asked whether he was edible, leading to Neirida's aforementioned threat to sever his arms, or wings, or whatever, if he hurt so much as a single whisker on Skitter's tiny little body.
They checked the stairs, but found them blocked, so sent Skitters to scout the laundry chute. He reported it clear, so the entire group climbed up the chute, finding themselves in a small laundry room. The door out led to a courtyard full of muddy, trampled flowers. Neirida became very sad. "They were just flowers. They were beautiful. Why did someone have to trample them?"
Moving on, the party came to the first barricade outside the chapel. Captain York immediately recognized Campro, and a magnificent speech by Neirida about her desire to defend all that was good and beautiful got her through the barricade with no trouble. She would not vouch for any of the others, but Hans' familiar and tenacity in battle against the doppelganger got him through very quickly. The interplay between Helden, Blackwarm, and the guards was utterly hilarious, but eventually Helden made his Diplomacy roll (a natural 20) and got through, and the guards figured they could handle ONE intruder and let Blackwing in.
Captain York asked them to wait for a moment while he introduced them to Winter. As she came out, Neirida had a very obvious, very serious insta-crush. Winter made no bones about it: They were short on food, men, and resources, and her first duty was to the people already in the temple, but if the obvious warriors (Neirida and Hans) could help her, they were more than welcome to take shelter in her temple. As Neirida stepped into the temple, she knelt down and sobbed. GM Note: NobodysWife did not explain the reaction to me, and it's a lot more fun having no idea what that was all about. When she saw that there were children among the refugees, she declared, "I will do whatever it takes to help you."
Winter was pleased.
She showed them around the temple, introduced them to a few of the refugees, explained that a yellow mist around the facility was preventing any escape, and how her best hope was to keep her group alive until more powerful outside help arrived. If the party could find them food and could exterminate the shapeshifters to the north, it would go a long way to keeping everyone alive.
The party readily agreed, and headed north to exterminate the shapeshifters.
They examined the boiler room but didn't search it, then found the storage rooms. Searching the southern storage room, they found some blankets and other common goods. Helden said, "Good job, old man! Wait! How old are you, anyway?"
The despondent Hans responded, "I'm only 19!"
The table exploded with laughter, as Helden had been referring to him as "the old man" all night. And so, "Old Man Hans" was born.
They searched the northern storage room and the two giant centipedes both bit Hans on their surprise round, successfully poisoning him. Hans' counterattack saw a massive fumble ("Fall prone and be blinded for 1d3 rounds", for which he rolled a 3), causing Neirida to quip, "Watch your joints, old man!"
The centipedes were easily-dispatched, earning them more winter blankets. They sent the blankets back to the chapel and got some chalk to mark off the doors they explored.
After the garden, boiler room, and storage rooms, they moved up to the staff office. Unfortunately, Neirida's 29 Perception roll was plenty to hear the sound of rocks shifting, so when they came upon "Doctor" Latchke pinned underneath the rubble, they all hit her with readied attacks. The poor doppelganger never had a chance to even stand up, as Neirida's normal attack plus Helden's crit were just too much for her. They searched the area, gaining the various knick-knacks (wooden holy symbol of Pharasma, small steel mirror, pair of gaudy red boots, masterwork silver dagger) and finding the beheaded and two crawling hands attached to the corpse. They promptly had Neirida target the head, Helden and Hans target one hand, and Blackwarm target the other hand. Head got crit and exploded. Hand got hit twice and exploded. Other hand danced to Blackwarm's will. The viscera popped out and tried to grab Helden, but making a rogue make a Reflex save is almost as bad as making a barbarian make a Fortitude save, so it missed hopelessly and was cut to ribbons by the well-prepared party.
Blackwarm named his new pet "Handy".
They moved on to a massive room that seemed to be a drying room for laundry. Three prisoners were strung up on the pipes: An obviously-undead creature eating a corpse (the second prisoner), and a third strangely-marked prisoner whose entire vocabulary consisted of, "Zandalus sees", "praise", and "words fail". The undead creature seemed perfectly willing to talk, but Neirida would hear none of it and cut the vile beast in half. The noise it made while dying caused someone to the south to start casting (what is it about APs that say, "When the BBEG hear xxx they start casting" without recognizing that the PCs will hear that casting!?!?!?!). So Hans put Protection from Evil on Neirida and they raced south.
They saw the image of the doppelganger on the hanging curtain, but Neirida would have none of it and just cut down the curtain, then went immediately to the "dead" woman and held her at swordpoint, waiting for Skitters to do a "smell test" on her. Not being an idiot, Dr. Oathsday tried to escape, rolling away and casting Vanish on herself. Blackwarm, having a declared action, hurled Handy at her... and rolled a whopping 3! I dropped Handy right next to him on the battle mat and looked up Handy's movement. 40'!?!?! Are you kidding me?!?!?
Handy skittered across the room, had Blindsense so he had no trouble finding Dr. Oathsday, then a natural 20 had Handy critting her on the floor. This told everyone else where she was, so Helden hit her in spite of her invisibility, Hans missed due to her invisibility, but Neirida was able to come around and hit her again. Again, that 50% miss chance didn't do her any good, and my first BBEG's entire fight was, "Roll on the floor, turn invisible, get beaten to death by a stupid hand."
We wrapped up with them finding the amazing loot (Handy Haversack, Pearl of Power, and Phylactery of Faithfulness) and bringing the cultist back to the guardpost. Of course when they found the handy haversack they naturally gave it to the Strength 8 Blackwarm, who promptly put Handy in it.
As they arrived back at the barricade, one of the guards cried out, "It's one of those cultists! They're why we're trapped here!", so Neirida promptly killed the cultist.
Captain York patiently explained that maybe, just maybe, next time she should keep the cultist alive for questioning. Neirida was pragmatic about the whole thing. He was dangerous, now he isn't. Case closed.
We finished the evening with the notification that the party could level up to level 2.
Speaking of Winter, I was utterly delighted to watch the non-Lawful party totally fail to mention to the cleric of Pharasma that they were bringing an undead hand into a temple of Pharasma, hidden in a handy haversack.
Now that's some bad juju right there!
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OK, Impus Minor has filed a formal complaint with me.
He *did* give me a background for Helden; it's just not a fantastically-easy one to work with, given the circumstances. Basically, he came up with one that is very "in theme" for the AP, but that may not work in the long run.
Since he complained, I'll see how well I can integrate it.
As a child, Helden had nightmares. Nightmares of hideous shapes and horrible monsters that were after him. His parents assured him that they were only dreams, and they couldn't hurt him, and as he got older they would go away.
Except as he got older, they didn't go away. They got worse. The terror he faced going to bed each night was overwhelming... until the night he woke up screaming from another nightmare, and his parents didn't come. He raced to their room and they were gone. Where they should have been were two smoldering pits in the mattress.
Alone and with no one to turn to, Helden became a child of the streets, training himself in light arms, waiting for the day he could face the monsters and avenge his parents...
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Oh, how I love reading your family gaming sessions. They always sound like a wonderful night filled with laughter.
My wife and I, along with our daughter and her then-boyfriend started Strange Aeons last fall, but then life happened and it utterly collapsed after 2 or 3 sessions.
Session 2: Moving on to the Main Hall, played 21-Feb-2017
Part I: Chores
The party returned victorious to the chapel, and the beleagured Winter was both grateful and pragmatic. "I really appreciate what you've done for me so far, but we can also use capable hands to help with the chores around here. Taking care of all these people isn't exactly easy."
The available chores included cooking, chopping wood, caring for the wounded, or soothing agitated patients. Neirida immediately went for chopping wood, and using a greatsword and rolling a 22 Survival check created a ludicrous amount of firewood for the group. Hans chose to tend the wounded, though he was out of Cure spells for the day so it was pretty much just, "Hans is no longer with the group." Helden was an interesting case... he first chose to soothe the agitated, rolled, failed miserably, then when he heard he didn't have to do something different from Neirida insisted that he was going to chop wood instead (also succeeding magnificently). My general rule as a GM is, "If you say you are doing something and you then roll a die, and that die indicates that you fail miserably, you do not then get to say, 'Oh, I don't do that after all.'" Impus Minor insists that since he didn't know he could duplicate Neirida's chores, it's unfair to hold him to that. Since it really doesn't matter in the long run, we're just letting it sit in "fuzzy unresolved land" because it's not worth fighting over.
Blackwarm was a walking disaster area. He tried to help with the wounded and failed even a DC 10 Heal check. He tried to soothe the agitated and rolled even worse. Winter finally told him to go sit in a corner and stop disturbing the other refugees. So he busied himself making a nest.
I did use the chores as an excuse to let the PCs meet the named NPCs, though the PCs were obviously not all that interested in most of them. Neirida asked Captain York to show her how to sharpen her sword, and all of them were interested in finding Branton's brother, but otherwise there wasn't much interaction.
Once the chores were done, Winter handed out the dinner rations: A thin onion soup with strips of dried venison. At the group's horrified expressions, I pointed out that they had chosen not to try to help with dinner. Winter settled down with the group, and said, "I'm sure you have many questions. Now would be a good time to ask them."
As usual in such info-dump scenarios, the group was hard-pressed to come up with any questions. They finally realized that they had heard the name "Zandalus" from multiple sources, and asked about him. Ulver Zandalus had been a patient at the asylum for many years. Up until a few days ago, he was a quiet man who suffered from horrible nightmares. He was mute, but drew many disturbing drawings and wrote similarly-disturbing poems. Obviously, something changed, and he led a revolt against the asylum staff. He and his followers, the "Apostles in Orpiment", were the cause of much of the violence and death in the asylum. Winter herself was a sister of the Maiden's Choir Cathedral in Caliphas, and had been traveling with Accuser Omari, a Royal Accuser investigating Haserton Lowls, the count of Versex, for dereliction of duties and an unusual attachment to the Briarstone asylum. Winter had stopped in the asylum, while Accuser Omari had proceeded on to Thrushmoor, a nearby city. Winter was convinced that the city had been spared the fate of the asylum, and if they could hold out long enough, help would arrive.
The party spent the night in the chapel, and leveled up to 2nd level.
In the morning, Winter asked the party whether they would be willing to help her further by breaching "that thing growing at the end of the hall" and searching for some exit from the asylum that did not involve going into the fog. She described some of the horrors she'd seen in the fog the night of the revolt, and the party quickly decided that going into the fog would be Bad.
They readily agreed to help, but hadn't yet encountered "the growth on the wall". Steeling themselves, they set forth.
Part II: Beyond the Wall
Their first order of business was to explore the two rooms they hadn't looked in yet. The first was the chaplain's office, converted into a day care center for the kids. The second was the chaplain's shrine and records room. To the party's surprise, no one had yet accessed the records. Helden made short work of the lock, gaining them access to some useless records, but also two scrolls of Cure Light Wounds, a scroll of Sanctuary, and a wand of Lesser Restoration with 7 charges left.
GM Note: I *loved* watching NobodysWife's reaction on learning that the AP had given them a wand of Lesser Restoration. "Aw, crap! Now we know that we're going to need this. There's going to be something really nasty out there."
Yep. Wands of Lesser Restoration. The things you hate finding in an AP. Right up there with alchemist's fire in the, "Oh, crap, now we're dealing with something bad," loot category.
A sheet hung across the eastern hallway, and they could hear faint sobbing coming from beyond it. Looking past the sheet, they saw a horrific eye growing in the wall beyond the sheet. Cue much discussion as to what to do about the eye. Blackwarm tossed an Acid Splash at it. Hans shot it and missed. Helden shot it and it screamed, "Who am I become!" and started lashing out with a fanged mouth from the pupil of the eye. So Neirida charged, crit, and eliminated the eye in a single blow. I did love watching the hardness 10 wall, though. I wonder what parties without a massive damage-dealer do. As it was, no one could significantly hurt the wall except Blackwarm and his 1d3 acid splash and Neirida and her, "I hit for 17 points per hit, and I critical half the time" greatsword.
Neirida made short work of the wall (a second crit, and this was a wall that I deemed "able to be crit" because of the nature of its construction), and they moved on into the unknown.
They moved through the huge admission hall using Hans' spear as a light source, and chose not to even bother with the front door. Instead, they headed for the eastern wing, where Branton's brother had last been seen. The first door they wanted to go through was blocked with rubble, but a bit of digging got them into a spacious chamber with a single desk, a glowing lantern on a stool, and hanging curtains and bloody gauze to the east. Two boilbloods charged the party, but their massive movement rate of 10' made them very vulnerable to missile weapons, and Neirida and Helden moved forward and knocked both unconscious. GM Note: I had no idea that oozes could be unconscious, but unlike undead, they don't have the 'destroyed when they go to negative hit points' entry, so I guess they can be knocked out. Who knew?
Then came the inevitable: Impus Minor said, "I coup de grace one!"
I waited 3-4 seconds for any contradictions. No one said anything, so I responded, "It explodes."
The whopping 4 points of damage (on 2d6) didn't bother Neirida much, and Helden made his Reflex save to avoid the damage entirely, but the subsequent 9 on her Fortitude save convinced NobodysWife that Neirida is up for some kind of unpleasantness in the not-so-distant future.
Having learned their lesson, they dispatched the other one with a crossbow bolt.
The door to the south was most inviting to them, so they opened it to reveal a garden path leading to another door. The mist was almost nonexistant here, but they all knew that going outside was Bad. So Blackwarm used Open/Close to open the door across the way, and Neirida used her massive movement to move over, look in, and move back, all in a single round. Which was a good thing, as hideous, headless worms poured forth from the ground to pursue her. She made her Will save to avoid being Shaken by the very sight of the things, but Blackwarm failed. Neirida, a sensible woman, closed the door.
They went around to the other entry to the room and found an opulently-decorated den of some sort, complete with two corpses of Apostles in Orpiment, one on the floor, and one hanging from the antlers of a stuffed elk above the hearth. The party closed the door to the garden path (mindless swarms are so stupid!), took up defensive positions, and Neirida climbed onto a table to investigate the body on the antlers.
The moment she climbed onto the table, the stuffed birds in the mansion-like cage started chirping pleasantly, much like Disneyland's tiki room. Everyone froze except Blackwarm, who used Detect Undead to confirm that the birds were indeed some kind of undead phenomenon. On Round 2, the pleasant chirping became a shrill, klaxon-like screaming and Neirida was Levitated to the ceiling. Blackwarm hit the birds with an Acid Splash, and Hans struck a solid blow with his spear. They attempted to Levitate Hans, but his 24 Will save was more than enough to prevent it, so they contented themselves with slamming Neirida to the floor. Helden stabbed them and finished them off. Blackwarm expressed regret that he hadn't tried to control them before they died.
Searching the corpses (their cause of death now obvious), the party found two more masterwork silver daggers, two Amulets of Natural Armor +1, and four more potions of Cure Light Wounds. If the cultists were this well-equipped, it was going to be a loooooooong fight...
|A Mite Excessive|
Well, I have no idea how other people have ruled on it (I think this small thread says it all), but I tend to agree with the whole, "Wolverine could smell Mystique, so Scent can penetrate shapeshifter-type Alter Self abilities."
So I was allowing Skitters to be able to sniff out doppelgangers.
Of course, it never actually came up in-game, as Neirida's willingness to hit anyone prone in the doppelganger area pretty much wiped them out, but it seemed like a nice in-game mood-setter. "Sit still while my mongoose sniffs you!"
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Session 3: The Tale of Brenton and Debis, played 28-Feb-2017
Unfortunately, the story of Brenton and Debis is just too motivating. Of COURSE my group took interest in the kids first and foremost, so they learned Brenton's story in the very first session. So of COURSE they headed to the east wing first, determined to search it thoroughly. They found Debis far too early, solved the puzzle way too readily, so I had to up them to 3rd level quite a bit early to keep them from being in way over their heads. But wow... just... wow. When I did the big reveal of Debis, the palpable disappointment, sadness, and, "We will make this right"-edness in the room was really one of those awesome gaming moments where you think, "This is why we game."
This session isn't divided into parts, primarily because I wasn't feeling well and I had to let them level up, so it was only around a 90-minute session overall.
The party finished searching the dead cultists in the visitors' room, and decided to continue their progress up the east wing. Their first stop was a quartet of patient rooms: The first had partially collapsed from the earthquake, but fortunately no one had been there at the time, as there was no sign of blood or bodies. The second had three corpses: That of a roughly 80-year-old man with a bloody boot in one hand and a satisfied smirk on his face, and those of two cultists obviously bludgeoned to death with a boot. Neirida murmured, "Good for you, old man. Sleep well."
After Hans confirmed that all three bodies were indeed just corpses, Neirida insisted on laying the old man in a more peaceful position, so the group dragged the two cultists into the partially-collapsed room, dumped them there, and lay the old man at peace in his bed, boots by his side. The third room was obviously a kids' room, with two beds and a massive tangle of sheets and pillows. The chalk on the wall that read, "Brenton and Debis' Room" told the group they had found what they were looking for... or so they thought.
A very thorough search of the room turned up very little: There were no signs of a struggle, no signs that Debis had returned to the room after the revolt, and all Helden could find was a pair of carved wooden knights buried in the sheets. Helden pcketed them carefully, saying, "I can give these to the kids to play with! I swear, I'm just the kids' entertainer!"
As they stepped into the hall again, they could hear scrabbling up and around the corner. Peering carefully, they spotted a female ghoul in a patient's smock, desperately trying to dig her way through the rubble. In an overkill moment of near rage-lance-pounce proportions, the very brief argument as to whether they should try to capture or control her was silenced, and Neirida raged, charged, and struck the ghoul for 21 points before it knew they were there. Down she went.
They returned to the fourth room, only to find the ghoul's most recent meal inside. Once Hans assured them that the man would not rise again as a ghoul, they moved on.
Listening to the door at the next room, they heard a man in obvious distress. "No! Not again! Keep away! I don't want anything from you! Get away from me, you monster!" Neirida raced in, only to see a man strapped to a bed having obvious nightmares. As she raced towards him, his back arched, he let out a final scream, and went still. Neirida called Hans over, and Hans confirmed that although the man was still breathing, he was actually now dead. His skin began to slowly take on a purplish hue, and Neirida quickly beheaded him. "Now we know where the ghouls come from," she muttered. A more thorough search of the room revealed nothing but a straightjacked and a hoodwink cowl. Thinking that these items might come in handy, the party confiscated them.
The rest of the ward was empty, so they returned to the hallway, which opened up into what must once have been a very pleasant dayroom. It was now marred by a massive trail of blood leading from a dead corpulent woman sitting in a wheelchair by one of the massive bay windows, all the way across the large room to a "pool" of blood sitting vertically blocking a hallway. Neirida looked quizically at Hans, and he confirmed that it was some kind of haunt, though he could not determine the trigger nor the way to make it stop. They carefully moved around the trail of blood, between the woman and the bay window, and further into the ward. As in every other window they'd seen, outside had obviously once been a beautiful garden, but was now a horrorscape of dead plants and mysterious half-seen shapes shuffling through a thick miasma of yellow mist.
Approaching an opening to the north, they could hear voices. "I need more! I'm getting the shakes! There must be more here! No! Give me the green one! I'll drink it!" and the sounds of glass bottles shattering. Neirida went into a fury: These idiots were using up much-needed medicine that could be being used by real patients. She charged in, followed closely by Helden and Hans, to find three cultists using up the precious medicines in their quest for a quick high.
The fight was short and bloody. Helden backstabbed the first cultist and Neirida proceeded to cut him in half. The other two cultists pounded Neirida brutally with their crowbars, adding a blow to Hans as he tried to move around them to provide flanks for Neirida and Helden. Neirida and Helden dropped another one, and the third, obviously distracted at the rate at which his comrades were falling, swung wild. Neirida dropped him, Helden said, "Quick! Stabilize him!", and Hans complied. "Why did you save him?" Neirida growled.
Helden explained that Captain York had wanted a captive, but the party knew that neither he nor Winter would be happy if the cultists knew how to get to them. The solution was easy: Into the straightjacket and hookwink cowl went the less-wounded cultist. Neirida had no compunctions about ending the life of the other.
They thoroughly searched the room, coming up with two potions of Cure Light Wounds and enough materials to make four Healer's kits. Hans channeled twice, but it did little good (5 points on 2d6? Really?), so he used the scroll of Cure Light Wounds on Neirida to get her closer to fully-healed.
The next room was a staff office of some kind, with a couch and a few desks. It had been ransacked by the cultists, but a thorough search revealed a book wrapped in butcher paper labeled, "Confiscated." Being the veterans of many Call of Cthulu games, the group was wise enough not to unwrap the tome. Opening the door at the other end of the room yielded... blackness. A deep darkness no light could penetrate. Hans stuck his spear tip slightly into the room, and it plunged into darkness. Blackwarm cast Light on a rock and tossed it in. Still nothing. Helden heard skittering, as if of small hard feet clattering on the stone floor, but still saw nothing.
Noting that there was another way in if they went back through the day room, they tried that door. More blackness, and more skittering.
Blackwarm had an idea. Which, as a GM, if you know Impus Major, is always a delight.
Out came Handy. "Handy, go in and see what you can find in there," Blackwarm purred, much to Neirida's disgust. As Handy crossed the threshold, a cacaphonous howl of dozens of voices screamed in horror and anguish, their tearful sobs demoralizing the entire party. "Come back, Handy! Come back!"
Most notable among the sobs was the child's voice. "Brenton?! Wake up, Brenton! Brenton, the lamp went out!"
Neirida muttered, "Oh, no. This is bad."
She had the rest of the party back up a few feet as she knelt on the floor, laying her greatsword down. "Debis? My name is Neirida. I spoke to Brenton. He's looking for you. He really wants you to come back with us. Can you come out of the dark for us?"
As the tiny skeletal figure stepped tentatively out of the blackness, all the party's hopes for a happy resolution were dashed.
GM Note: There are moments of GMing that are truly epic, and that remind you why you love to GM, and why you love your players. Holding up Debis' picture and seeing the utterly stricken looks on the players' faces was one of those moments. They were saddened. They were moved. They were AFFECTED. It was AWESOME.
The creature, seeing their reactions, skittered back into the darkness. "Brenton! The light went out!"
Neirida turned to the rest of the party. "Get Brenton's shadow lamp. NOW! *I* will stay here with Debis until you return."
She continued speaking softly to Debis. "My friends have gone to Brenton. He has your lantern. We will have it for you soon. You don't have to be scared any more. I will protect you."
"Even from the bad men through the other door?"
"From everyone. If anyone comes to harm you, ever again, I will protect you."
GM Note: After that bit of wonderful roleplay, letting Impus Major say ANYTHING to ANYONE grieving is a delight. The kid is extremely popular at school, with the whole, "Everybody LOVES Impus Major" and so forth. But man, when he roleplays, he roleplays social awkwardness with the best of them.
Hans, Helden, and Blackwarm arrived at the chapel and went immediately to Brenton. Helden started in. "Brenton, we found your brother!"
"Oh my goodness! Where is he? Why didn't you bring him back with you? Is he with the big scary lady?"
Blackwarm: "He is in a better place now."
Helden pummeled Blackwarm about the head and neck as the horrified Winter and Hans looked on, and Brenton howled in anguish. Helden did his best to explain. "We found him, but he's trapped. He needs the lantern. You need to give me the lantern so we can free him."
"But... the bird said he's dead, and it's all I have left of him. No, you can't have it! What else can I remember him by?"
It took only a couple more such hints for Helden to realize what was needed (he really wanted to keep the knights), so he offered the two knights in exchange for the lantern.
"My knights! You found them! And there are two of them, like me and Debis! OK, you can borrow the lantern."
They raced back to the waiting Neirida. The lantern, unlit, dispelled the Deeper Darkness as if it were a lit lamp cutting through an ordinary darkness. As Neirida pressed forward, she found the skeletal creature standing motionless in the center of the room. "Debis. I have the lantern. Your brother is safe. I will protect him. You can be free now."
Debis touched the lantern and dissolved into ash. The darkness lifted. A disembodied voice echoed in everyone's heads: "Thank you!" Neirida sobbed. Or at least cried a bit.
They closed up the room, grabbed the bound cultist, and dragged him back to the chapel. Of everyone I've ever gamed with, I am proud to say that NobodysWife, when moved, gives the greatest soliloquies I've ever heard.
"Brenton. I am afraid that your brother is lost. But you should know, he died a hero. When the uprising happened, there were many cultists who wanted to kill you. Kill everyone here in the chapel. Kill Debis. And even though he lost his life, he came back as something stronger. Something strong enough to stop them. He gave his life to protect you and everyone here. He loved you very much. And we found him. And we told him that we would protect you now. And he went on in peace, knowing that you would be safe. Your brother was a hero, Brenton. Never forget that!"
Even Winter cried a bit.
And the party went up to Level 3. Because... good speeches! Oh, and the blockade is now gone...
Just so everyone knows, the campaign hasn't died; it's just March illnesses. Impus Minor was sick both the 7th and the 14th (two different illnesses), and we chose to let him relax doing other things.
So hopefully we'll resume on the 21st; Urgathoa willing.
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Session 4: Ratlings and Rotten Rolls, played 21-Mar-2017
Also... ratlings? Against a purportedly Level 2 group? The Summon Swarm ability alone is bad enough, but add Spider Climb, Invisibility, Dimension Door, and Cause Fear and you have a recipe for immense player frustration. I honestly believe that the *only* reason this fight didn't end our night nearly as soon as it began was the heroics of Handy, whose 30' Blindsense negated the ratlings' Invisibility. Just a painful, painful fight to run overall, no fun for the GM nor the players.
As NobodysWife put it, she loves the flavor of the AP, and the setting, and the writing, and the NPCs, but the constant bombardment of saves and the minimal melee are making playing a bloodrager less-than-fun. Hopefully, as they move on towards the cultists, it will turn into more of a straight-up fight, and less, "OK, here's one more save you have to make."
To my utter delight, the group started the session doing chores for the survivors. BOTH Blackwarm and Helden had taken Profession:Cook, but Helden's higher base bonus, plus rolling first, plus getting a 23 to provide a very fine meal to the group, meant Blackwarm was once again relegated to trying to do something at which he was hopeless. This time, he chose to try to help the injured and sick. A grand total of 6 on his Heal check meant business as usual: The nurse chased Blackwarm out of the sick ward with a broom. Neirida broke up more firewood, and Hans assisted in caring for the sick; in particular, Neirida, since they now knew she had leprosy.
In the morning, once Hans had finished his meditation, the group headed out again. (Neirida successfully made her first save against leprosy! Hooray!) After a short bit of discussion as to whether it was more important to go through Debis' room to find out what lay beyond, or to explore the central wing, they decided that it would probably be better to clear out the central wing, in case there was something there that might threaten the survivors.
The first room they explored was a room of carnage: Half a dozen victims had done their best to barricade the door, but whatever had been after them had been even more persistent; they had all been beaten to death, and each had a sack tied over his or her head. The rear wall of the room had collapsed, leading into some kind of storage closet full of the remains of mops, brooms, buckets, and so forth. Nothing seemed particularly valuable in the rubble. While Blackwarm and Helden were insatiable curious about what might lie beneath the sacks, Neirida insisted that she didn't want to be anywhere near when the hoods came off. Eventually, Helden and Blackwarm backed down. Exploring the rest of the room, they found a pair of thunderstones and a non-magical gold ring.
Moving on, they stopped and listened at the double doors leading into the central wing. Neirida heard scrabbling and rustling, as of several large rats in a huge room (hey, a 26 Perception roll is nothing to sneeze at!). As we went into initiatives and Hans moved into the room, the ratlings started casting. After NobodysWife said, "Just watch! They're going to summon rat swarms!", it was rather anticlimactic when Hans made his Spellcraft roll and confirmed her suspicions.
Cue an out-and-out terrible combat of the sort the less said, the better. Handy was the all-out star, running up, disrupting the ratlings' casting, engaging them in melee, and otherwise being a gropy pest, kind of like a 98-pound frat boy on Free Beer night. Otherwise, Blackwarm succumbed to one of the first Cause Fear spells that came along and fled all the way back to the chapel before recovering. Neirida took a couple of mighty swings, missed, got diseased by a rat swarm, and fell to a Cause Fear. (Did I mention her die was cold?) Helden threw daggers all over the room to little avail. Hans was utterly useless (even having to use his Defiant Luck feat to avoid being scared) until he started positioning himself to use Burning Hands, and even then only weakened the swarms.
After several rounds, one ratling was down, the other two were going strong, but Hans used his Pearl of Power to throw in another Burning Hands. And that was pretty much the turning point. 2 of the 3 rat swarms succumbed, Helden killed the third, and Handy engaged the final invisible ratling. By that time, the entire party had regrouped. Outmatched, the third ratling Dimension Doored away.
After a very effective channel energy (11 points on 2d6), the party moved northwards. The next hallway had a trail of mucus running across it between 3 of the doors. Not being idiots, they chose the fourth door. What luck! Inside they heard the injured ratling reporting to her superior(s).
In Pathfinder, preparation and surprise can be everything. As Blackwarm hurled open the door, Hans put Protection from Evil on Neirida. Helden moved in and killed the wounded ratling. Blackwarm hit Ratchmamby dead center in the chest with a 23-point Scorching Ray (yep, 3 6's and a 5), Handy added his 2 points AND grappled him, and Neirida charged in, determined not to miss, spent a Hero point, and dropped Ratchmamby to negative hit points before he could speak a word. The next round, Helden used the brutality that is a high-initiative rogue's post-surprise round to carve one of the remaining ratlings to pieces. The final ratling had just long enough to fail his Concentration check to escape before he was cut down as well.
They dispatched the ratlings, looted their corpses (a Brooch of Shielding and Cloak of Resistance +1), and we called it a night, as Impus Minor was getting very tired.
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Session 5: Neirida Puts her Sword Down, played 04-Apr-2017
In terms of GM'ing, there really wasn't anything special here, except for what the heck to do about the oneirogen of Eliege Losandro. The text lists her as "comatose". So I have no idea why she has combat stats written up. But I played her as I interpreted her description; that is, she just sat there barfing rainbows, and it seemed to work out well for the group. So in my judgement, "It worked, so it was the right thing to do."
The other question was: How long does it take the cultists to realize that Debis is gone? I figured it would be a progressive encounter roll. Since I rolled a 19 (and low is an encounter), I didn't have to worry about it... this session.
After a 2-week break from the game, I reviewed what the party had been doing (killing ratlings), what they'd found (ratling treasure), and they went over their remaining resources, deciding to continue their explorations for a bit longer. I reminded them of the trail of mucus between the two doors down the westward hallway and one of the doors in the northward hallway. Neirida shuddered at the thought of having to cross the mucus. In one of those, "Only when you're playing with kids" moments, Helden decided to take a sample of the mucus to see whether it was fit to use as an ingredient in his cooking. A roll of 16 on Profession: Cook was more than enough to determine that the mucus was inedible, and would more than likely sicken anyone who ate it. Neirida was nauseated just watching him consider using the stuff in his cooking. Helden suggested that they'd found plenty of wood, so they should just go back, hauling back as much wood as they could (what were they, woodchucks?), and spend the rest of the day letting him craft arrows. Neirida overruled him, and decided to explore the westernmost "mucus door".
The room itself was not interesting; a large conference room with a HUGE conference table and chairs. Helden positively drooled at the amount of scrap wood that was available to him. However, the mucus trail led to a closet door in the north wall. Neirida cautiously approached the door, listened, and heard the unmistakable clinking of jars being moved about. As Blackwarm cast Open to open the door, Neirida stepped back. It was a good thing she did so, as a jar full of noxious fluid and some kind of tumor or unnatural organ dropped and shattered right where she would have been standing had she opened the door herself. Two voices spoke in broken Common: "You missed!" "I know! I use another jar!"
The poor pickled punks had no idea who they were dealing with. Not only had Impus Major read up on pickled punks, not only had he decided he really wanted one for Blackwarm, but Blackwarm rolled a 20 on initiative and a 23 on his Knowledge: Religion roll, so he knew what they were, and he knew he could control (at least one of) them. He hit them with Control Undead, both failed their Will saves, but because he was too low-level to control both of them he only got the first. The resulting fiasco can only be described by the ensuing events:
The next round saw Helden pin the uncontrolled punk and Neirida kill it, but the fun was just beginning: Blackwarm named the controlled punk "Piglet" and wanted to keep it. Cue the amazing fireworks:
Neirida insisted that the pickled punks were abominations that needed to be destroyed, and, if Blackwarm were to try to smuggle one into the chapel, Neirida would personally ensure that Winter found out about it.
Blackwarm insisted that Piglet was cute, and harmless, and maybe Handy could use Piglet as a mount. Or maybe Piglet could use Handy as a mount. But they made a great team!
Impus Minor stepped out of the room to use the restroom
Impus Major, in a brilliant pantomime of Piglet in an unbelievably whiny voice: "Where's the wooood, Blackwarm?"
"Shut up, Helden! Nobody likes you!"
At that point, the entire table utterly lost it. Impus Minor had told us to catch him up when he got back. All he had to get caught up on were fits of giggles from the other players (and the GM).
To make matters worse, Impus Major promptly started singing an impromptu theme song for Piglet. I cannot even recall the tune, much less the lyrics, because I was laughing too hard.
To try to satisfy Neirida and Blackwarm, Hans suggested that Blackwarm put Piglet into one of the intact jars and leave him in the closet to keep him safe. Blackwarm agreed, opened a jar, dumped the preserved brain on the floor, and stuck in Piglet, screwing the lid on tight.
Neirida had finally had enough. She attacked the jar with Piglet in it. Only the hardness of the jar (hardness 1, hit points 2) were enough to save Piglet from her wrath (he ended up with 2 hit points left. Thank you, jar!). Blackwarm, alarmed, scooped the helpless Piglet into his warms... and promptly blew his Fortitude save and developed the pickled puck rash, becoming, if possible, even more irritating. More negotiations ensued, including NobodysWife bringing up a video from the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode where Bart creates an abomination that wants nothing more than to die. Blackwarm finally relented, and let Neirida put the pickled puck out of her misery.
They explored the next room only to find two interns who had been brutally murdered by Blackwarm's "cute, innocent" pickled pucks. Neirida glared at him as they searched the room, discovering a wand of Bless for their troubles. They finally decided they'd had enough, Helden loaded up with all the wood he could carry (much to the amusement of everyone around the table), and they returned to the chapel. For the rest of the afternoon, Neirida and Captain York retrieved all the bodies they'd found during their explorations, Helden crafted new crossbow bolts to replace the ones they'd used, Blackwarm worked the furnaces, and Hans prepared the bodies for cremation and said rites over them. Winter and Hans treated the others for their various diseases and rashes, and, in a bit of miraculous rolling, by the next morning everyone was cured of everything!
I suggested ending for the night, but the group wanted to go for a bit longer, so they returned to the central wing and checked the one room in the mucus-filled hallway they hadn't checked before. It was an anatomist's room, full of notes and drawings and other evidence of a man (or woman) obsessed with deformities of the head. Finding nothing they considered valuable, they grabbed the research notes and moved on.
The final room of the night was also the most mysterious. They opened the door at the end of the hall to reveal a HUGE, ornately-decorated office, two stories tall and full of opulent furniture. The only thing marring the beautiful decor was the veritable lake of blood in the center of the room, in the middle of which knelt a middle-aged woman, head thrown back, eyes blank, spewing a rainbow mist from her mouth. "That's not normal," Neirida noted.
After determining that the woman would not respond to their prompts, they decided to search the rest of the room. Helden had no trouble picking the lock on the desk, and therein they learned that the woman was none other than Eliege Losandro, administrator of the facility, and she had agreed to work with one "Count Lowls" to try to cure Zandalus using arcane means. Lowls' only request was that she take care of a group of amnesiacs. The party immediately recognized themselves in this description: This Lowls must know something about them!
Searching further, they found much treasure, which we decided they would sort through next session.
|A Mite Excessive|
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Session 6: The Unexpected Enemy, played 18-Apr-2017
After another 2-week break, we reconvened and the party went over the loot they'd recovered from Administrator Losandro's desk: Hans was given the Lesser Talisman of Healing Power and the scrolls of Remove Paralysis, Neirida took the Lesser Talisman of Warrior's Courage, Blackwarm took the Greater Talisman of Beneficial Winds and the scroll of Fox's Cunning, and Neirida carried the rest. Yep, Helden got nothing. Tough on Helden.
Neirida desperately wanted to do something for Administrator Losandro, but Hans hadn't been able to figure out what was wrong with her, so Neirida had to content herself that maybe, just maybe, Winter might know what to do. Not wanting to expose themselves to the mysterious rainbow mist, the party didn't approach Administrator Losandro, but checked the rest of the room for anything useful, then moved on to the next door they hadn't yet explored.
This door led into a long hallway with many doors on either side (6 in total). The hallway had once been lit by lanterns, but someone had meticulously vandlized them all so the only source of light was the tip of Hans' spear. The party had enough Knowledge: Dungeoneering to know that the door at the end of the hall led to the vast lake of blood the aptly-named "Bleeding Lady" had spewed. There was general agreement "Do not open that door!"
In an uncharacteristically-careless move, the party walked up to the first door on the right and had Blackwarm cast Open on it with no preliminary checks. The good news was that this sudden action surprised the apostle in orpiment who was busy ransacking the room. The bad news was that the party was similarly-surprised to see him. However, Neirida rolled high enough on her initiative that she was able to rush in and one-shot him.
The party stayed in initiatives as two more apostles came out of doors across the hall, but Handy engaged one and Neirida the other. Little harm was done save a single blow to Handy, and Blackwarm lovingly cast Repair Undead to provide succor to his minion.
Exploring the rooms the now-dead apostles had vacated, the group found a series of records rooms that the apostles had been ransacking for unknown reasons. The largest of the rooms, from whence two of the three apostles had come, stored personal effects for the hundreds of patients who had stayed in the facilities over the years. As the party looked for valuables, or even anything of use, I told them, "Imagine wandering out into open farmland, gathering the first 200 people you find, having them put down their tools and equipment in the field, then taking them inside and storing all their other gear. That's what you find here."
A collective, "Oh," indicated their realization they would not be finding any valuables here. They gave it the old college try anyway, but the highest Perception roll in the group was a 21, and they found nothing.
The second room included records on many of the patients, the party included. They quickly became eager to learn more about other patients. They learned that the "bleeding lady", Mrs. Freeling, had a heart condition for which she was taking medicine, and one of the nurses had terrified her by telling her that if she didn't get her medicine, her heart would explode. It took very little effort for the party to decide that they needed to get Mrs. Freeling her medicine. They took her file so that Winter could reproduce the dosage. Examining their own files, they learned little new: They were supposedly employees of Count Lowls who were in a "fugue state", whatever that was, but Administrator Losandro hadn't seen anything supernatural or unusual about their states, other than the fact that they had all come into that state simultaneously. They took their own files as well, and checked for files on Zandalus. Unsurprisingly, they didn't find any, though it was obvious the apostle had been looking for the same thing.
The next room was locked, but Helden managed to open it eventually (did you know you can take 20 on opening a lock? I didn't until I read the rules on Disable Device), leading to a second records room wherein they found records of unusual, supernatural cases of madness, plus an odd picture on the wall. Neirida, not being silly, moved the picture, found the secret compartment, pulled out the lockbox and the records of Ulver Zandalus. They took it all and returned to Winter.
Neirida met with Winter privately, describing Administrator Losandro's condition and asking Winter whether she could go take a look, and possibly help. Winter explained her position: There was now a clear path from the cultists to her refugees. The last time such a path had existed, if it hadn't been for her and the Captain's valiant defense, the refugees would have been lost. She would not put them at risk again by leaving the chapel until she knew that Zandalus and the cultists were dead. If Neirida really wanted to help Administrator Losandro, the best thing she could do would be to find a way to remove Zandalus and the cultists, freeing Winter to help those who needed her. Neirida was nonplussed, but at least understood Winter's position.
Winter and Hans spent an hour crafting Mrs. Freeling's medicine, while Helden opened the lockbox and was utterly overjoyed to be the proud new owner of Red Destiny, a +2 shortsword.
Checking the party's preparedness, Neirida was pleased to learn that their last foray had taken very few resources, so they set forth to Debis' room to deal with the cultists once and for all.
Their first stop was Mrs. Freeling. They gave her her medicine, said, "This should make you all better, Mrs. Freeling," and sure enough, she burbled, "Thaaaaaank youuuuuu," and the haunt expired. They explored the newly-exposed room and found the remains of poor orderly Hobe, whose many wounds spoke of a valiant last stand. Her Cloak of Resistance and potions of Bull's Strength and Protection from Evil would serve the party well. Neirida spoke a few words over her and the party moved on.
Once past Mrs. Freeling, they buffed themselves, prepared to fight, threw open the doors leading to the cultists' area...
...and found not a few maniacal cultists, but an entire village of survivors. Some were obviously maniacal cultists. But many, many more were obviously victims, too terrified to speak up or act out of place to do anything other than follow orders. A group of cruficied corpses on the wall provided testament to what happened to those who resisted. At a loss for words for a moment, the party stood still as some of the villagers approached. "They have come from beyond the darkness!"
A man in a doctor's uniform approached. "Good! More come to gaze beyond, to serve the orpiment! Welcome, friends!"
He approached with open arms, so Neirida did not immediately kill him. As he got clear, he said sotto voce, "Agree and come with me if you want to live."
In a bit of magnificent die rolling adding to the roleplaying, Neirida made a decent Bluff roll (a 16, I believe) to say, "Thank goodness we made it past that creature and got here safely!"
Hans turned and yelled, "It's coming! Slam the door!", closed the door, and rolled a natural 20 on his Bluff.
Even the doctor was fooled. "You didn't kill it?!?!?! What were you thinking!??!?!"
The doctor let them back to the infirmary, where they had a short debriefing:
We ended the evening with the group deciding whether or not they had any more questions for Dr. Elbourne before they moved on to take on Oneirogen.
|The Mad Comrade|
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Session 7: The Short but Glorious Unlife of Totally Human Larry, played 02-May-2017
So I had Ivory defect to their side. It made more sense for her, given her background, and that let me give them more information. That in turn led to a rather clever plan, brilliantly executed by my group, if a bit accidentally.
But seriously, ghouls. They left one of the doors almost completely unguarded. You're intelligent undead! Take the long way around!
The group finished their conversation with Dr. Elbourne, learning that the refugees in this encampment were not protected from the horrifying dreams and nightmares, and in fact one or two residents went mad or out-and-out died every single night. While Winter's camp was dying due to a lack of supplies, this camp was dying due to a lack of protection.
The asylum was certainly not a cheerful place.
Dr. Elbourne marked each of them with a symbol using an ocher paste: Neirida received a swirl on her forehead, Helden a star, Hans a moon, and Blackwarm, after a couple of smart-aleck comments, received a frowny face on his beak. As they returned to the common room, the others in the encampment noted their symbols, recognized them, and ignored the group. They were able to easily head to the west doors and into the kitchen.
The kitchen was a curiosity. Even with three large cooking fires against the north wall, no one was cooking. In fact, one of the fireplaces was carefully delineated with rocks. Upon closer inspection, that fireplace contained a single cauldron that rattled and clanked as if something in it were boiling over, yet it appeared empty.
Opening the door to the pantry, the party surprised four apostles in orpiment: Three men and a woman, busily peeling, slicing, and cooking potatoes in pots that hung precariously over makeshift fires against the southern wall. One of the male apostles accosted them.
"What are you doing here?"
Neirida tried to be quick on her feet. "We've just joined, and one of us is a cook. We thought we could help."
"Don't need yer help. Don't want it. Ivory here's a perfectly fine cook. Get lost."
Ivory interjected, "But I..."
"Shut up, woman! Nobody's talking to you, and you don't need any help!"
They were interrupted by the sounds of ghouls scratching at the blocked-off southern doors, but after a few rounds the ghouls retreated and the argument resumed.
Neirida was pretty much done with talking. "Maybe if you treated your cook better, you'd get better food!"
"You want some of this?", he growled, drawing his sword, "Come get it!"
Neirida couldn't have been happier. He went first and struck her a resounding blow with his crowbar. His companions stared chanting, "Fight! Fight! Fight!" Hans rushed in and placed himself between Ivory and the other two apostles. Helden ran around the outside of the room, hoping to surprise the group by attacking from the rear. Neirida cut down the obnoxious one, leading to the others' sudden gasps of, "Kill her!"
As for Blackwarm, out came Handy, who proceeded to lay waste to one of the apostles for all of 2 points of damage. Blackwarm's Acid Splash made it 3 total.
It was a short and brutal fight, only made longer because Neirida's die was being particularly ornery: 1, 3, 3, 6, 3 is not the way to win a fight. Her opponent wasn't rolling any better, however, so once Helden did a flanking hit-crit on one (who dropped dead on the spot) and Neirida hit the other, it was over.
Ivory was apoplectic. How was she going to explain her dead comrades? The group put their heads together and eventually hatched a plan: They would break through one of the barriers, dispatch any ghouls who came along, drag the bodies with them, and Ivory would run and tell the others that ghouls had made off with her companions, and the new blood had gone off in pursuit.
Opening the door led to a silly, silly fight. I rolled on the weather chart, and it was the Tripping Fog. That had no targets other than... my ghouls. Neirida was in the doorway, so the ghouls got to run up, claw uselessly at her, and get cut down. Or occasionally tripped. As the first ghoul dropped, a mysterious faceless creature flew down, grabbed its corpse, and flew off with it. Nobody seemed to mind in the least. One ghoul got a solid claw-and-bite on Neirida, but three Fortitude saves of 24-26-23 ensured she didn't particularly care about ghoul-borne diseases. Blackwarm spammed Control Undead until he finally got one. He named it "Totally Human Larry". He was overjoyed. Neirida was... not...
The next step was to get across the courtyard quickly and back indoors. Blackwarm ordered Totally Human Larry to stay with Ivory and do anything she told him to do. He also had Totally Human Larry maul the apostle corpses a bit so they looked more like they'd died by ghoul than by greatsword. With any luck, only Dr. Elbourne would be able to tell the difference, and he wouldn't say anything.
Once the party was safely across, Ivory sounded the alarm. Much to Blackwarm's dismay (and Neirida's joy), Ivory had Totally Human Larry play the role of a ravening ghoul perfectly, so the reinforcements arrived, cut down Totally Human Larry, and the party's ruse was a complete success...
...not only were they safely across the courtyard, but they could safely return when they needed to.
|A Mite Excessive|
|Malek the Powerful and Almighty|
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Session 8: Asparagus Jones' Troubled Teen Years, played 09-May-2017
As the party moved up the hall, they very deliberately stuck to the north wall and listened at the first door they came upon. As a GM, I judged the Collapsing Wall ambush to be a bit too far away, so the ghouls behind the wall waited for a more opportune moment. Listening at the door, Helden heard the sounds of some kind of creature in a crate trying to break loose. Blackwarm Opened the door for a surprise round as the rest of the party poured in. Three ghouls were examining a creature in a crate, while on the opposite wall a man (either barely alive or freshly a ghoul) was strapped to a vertical bedframe. Combat did not start out well. Neirida failed to drop the first ghoul, the second paralyzed Hans, and the third moved to the restrained man and threatened the party, "Stop or the man dies!"
Unfortunately, then came Blackwarm, and the hostage-holding ghoul was now Blackwarm's puppet. Blackwarm named him Asparagus Jones. Neirida dropped her ghoul, and with Asparagus Jones' help Helden was able to rescue Hans before he was coup de graced.
As they waited for Hans to recover, Blackwarm asked Asparagus Jones about the creature in the crate, which at the moment looked like a cute little puppy. "Oh, it is a horrible, shape-changing monstrosity, master! It has many teeth!"
Once Hans had recovered, he healed the man, Ilki Volost, and Ilki confirmed Asparagus' story. So the poor esipil never got out of its crate. They took Hans' spear and Helden's rapier and stabbed the poor thing to death without it ever getting to do anything of note. As usual, Blackwarm was a master of patient care.
"So, what were you in for?"
"Oh. That sucks. Maybe you should kill yourself."
(That's not the real conversation -- he wasn't quite that bad, but I know the party's sympathy was... less than warm-and-fuzzy.)
They decided they couldn't leave Ilki alone facing who-knows-what, so Hans burned a Lesser Restoration from the wand to ensure Ilki wouldn't change that day. Moving on towards the northwest, Hans listened at the next door and described 3 ghouls shuffling aimlessly. Once more it was Open-attack, but this time Asparagus Jones led the charge. Having a frontman who is immune to paralysis paid off, and the three ghouls inside dropped quickly. Hans' Burning Hands didn't drop any of them, but certainly didn't help their dispositions.
Once they were dead, Blackwarm asked Asparagus Jones what they might have been searching for. Asparagus responded that he could smell flesh up above. Against one wall of the room was a crumbled staircase: The bottom 10 feet had collapsed, but the rest looked sound enough. Neirida and Helden climbed up easily, and lowered a rope for Hans, Blackwarm, and Ilki. A bit of amusement ensued as Blackwarm ordered Asparagus Jones to use the rope, and Asparagus balked, "But Master, can't I just climb?"
As Asparagus easily climbed the wall, I got the usual GM flak for bad AP writing: "So if the ghouls can smell the human above them, see the staircase, and easily climb to it, why didn't they just go up and get their food?"
Again, I had no answer.
The room above was awash in swirling yellow mist, with a remarkable concentration in the center of the room. The group approached cautiously, Neirida taking one side and the rest of the group circumnavigating to the other side. As she neared the main body of the fog, she thought she could make out a humanoid figure in the center. "Hello? Are you Oneirogen? We're here to help you!"
The oneirogen immediately attacked her, but a series of excellent saves on her part and a flank by Asparagus Jones made short work of the creature. Once it fell, it became clear that though it had once been human, it had long since stopped being so. Excellent Heal and Knowledge: Planes checks by Hans revealed the horrible, horrible truth: This had once been a human being, but a small tear into another plane had formed inside of him, allowing the mist from the other plane into the Material plane, and ripping out all of the poor man's organs and humanity. Once he was dead, the mists in the room started dissipating.
The party had a plan: Kill the oneirogens, however many there were, and they would be free.
But first, it was time to rest. They had no way to get back to the chapel, so they would have to risk sleeping in the unprotected tower. Neirida, Helden, and Hans chose to stay awake all night instead, risking fatigue but avoiding the dreams. Blackwarm slept. As he slept, he dreamt of deserted alleys obscured by billowing yellow mist. As he wandered aimlessly and hopelessly through the urban maze, a wall collapsed, revealing a small room. In the room was an ancient Keleshite woman sitting on a stool at a simple table. She looked Blackwarm in the eye. "Follow the unicorn."
Blackwarm decided she was insane, as all humans are.
Blackwarm failed his save to get a decent night's sleep, but then burned a Hero Point to succeed.
Then came the best moment of the night. Handy yet again failed his Will save to break free, but Asparagus Jones succeeded. Unfortunately for Asparagus Jones, Blackwarm dutifully ties up all of his undead at night, just in case. Cue a long argument between Neirida and Blackwarm about the inherent dangers of using undead as puppets, of the atrocities of Necromancy, and Blackwarm's final statement that, "No, no! Asparagus Jones is a good guy! He's just going through his troubled teen years right now."
The table exploded in laughter, and we ended the session for the evening.
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Session 9: Wrapping up the Ghouls, played 11-May-2017
Once Blackwarm burned a Hero Point to get a decent night's rest, he tried once again to gain control of Asparagus Jones. It only took 2 tries, as my ghouls seem to roll absolutely terribly when it comes to Will saves. Once again, Asparagus Jones was theirs (though I did have a blast having him ramble on about tearing them apart, devouring their eyes and the like while he was tied up and uncontrolled). They descended from the tower room and took the classic party tactic of "follow the left wall". (Though they did it from a player perspective, so from the party's perspective it was actually the right wall.)
The stairs leading up from the hallway were choked with rubble, so they moved on to the shower room, wherein they found a scene of horror: Perhaps a dozen mangled bodies lay rotting in the pool area, while three ghouls (one with only one hand, the other strung about his neck) nonchalantly chatted and snacked. The only part of the fight of note was Neirida's rolling. Some days you just have a bad session. This evening Neirida's die could not roll over a 6. It was truly frustrating for her player, and painful for the rest of us, as the main damage-dealer simply could not do damage. Even worse, when she assailed Klades, the die remained true to form and she was sickened by his stench. However, the rest of the party and Asparagus Jones made short work of the two ghouls and the ghast, plus the three ghouls that arrived as reinforcements. Neirida had Hans say a few words over the dead before they moved on to determine from whence the reinforcements had come.
That room had an obviously-weakened wall to the north, clearly designed to be tipped over onto people in the passageway beyond. Neirida chose to leave the wall standing, figuring they might need it at some point. They chose not to explore the outside courtyard (though the yellow mist was much thinner, it was still present, and the faceless creature that had made off with the ghoul's body was still out there), and instead checked on the final unexplored indoor passage. There, they spotted a strange, multi-legged worm thing that Hans identified as a "voonith", a small, aquatic, but most importantly neutral magical beast. It was obviously terrified and ready to defend itself, so the party did not approach, instead making horrific Handle Animal rolls in an attempt to soothe it. Failing these rolls, the party chose to leave it be until they could find a way to convince it that they were there to help.
We ended the session as the party moved away from the voonith.
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Session 10: The Fall of Handy, played 16-May-2017
After a small amount of discussion and a review of the map, the party decided that they wanted to explore the inner courtyard, for completeness' sake if nothing else. As they moved into the courtyard, they were delighted to find that not only was the mist significantly thinner (to the point that they could see in the natural light of daytime), but the weather was downright eerily calm (a combination of them killing an oneirogen and the GM rolling a 6 on the weather table). Moving off the path, a magnificent unicorn appeared to their south. A hilarious discussion ensued.
Neirida: Didn't you say that the woman in your dream told you to follow the unicorn?
Blackwarm: Yes! So I'm not going to follow it! Remember last time we did what we were told? That guy chopped us up and killed us?
Neirida: That's not what I remember about that dream at all.
Blackwarm: Well, it's what I remember, so I'm not following the unicorn!
Eventually, Blackwarm was outvoted, and the party headed towards the unicorn. Helden raced ahead. "Hey, look everybody! I've caught up with the unicorn's butt!"
The unicorn turned around and attacked him, as a unicorn whose butt is being admired rightly should.
The party started off trying to avoid hurting the unicorn as is laid into them, doing both Helden and Neirida significant amounts of damage. As it attacked, its appearance began to change, growing more and more emaciated with every blow. Just as the party decided it was probably OK to kill it (they started thinking it was an undead unicorn, and maybe Blackwarm could have a new pet), the nightgaunt they had seen previously landed behind Blackwarm and attacked him. As our dice continued their epic run of bad rolling, the nightgaunt hit Blackwarm, but rolled a natural 1 on its grapple. Blackwarm was safe... for the moment.
Neirida's die finally decided to throw her a bone and she crit the unicorn for some ludicrous amount of damage. As she split the creature in two, it dissipated into black smoke and then nothingness. Hans recognized that it had been a haunt all along. (I have to admit, having the GMNPC have all the massive Knowledge rolls is pretty useful.) Helden and Hans engaged the nightgaunt, with Helden significantly more effective against its relatively high AC. Blackwarm, squawking in terror, stepped back and send Handy and Asparagus Jones to deal with the threat.
Ah, Handy! I really really liked Handy. Unfortunately, being tiny, Handy had to move into the squares of his enemies to attack them, provoking attacks of opportunity every time he assailed anyone. And this was his final time. The nightgaunt rolled a 19 to hit, rolled 9 points of damage, and Handy was no more. Asparagus Jones hit the nightgaunt, but it resisted paralysis. In a moment of terror for no one except Blackwarm, the nightgaunt, given 3 targets (Hans, Helden, and Asparagus Jones), decided to carry off Asparagus Jones. Would Blackwarm lose all of his precious undead in a single combat? The nightgaunt hit and flew off with Asparagus Jones. Helden's arrow did a tiny amount of damage. Neirida threw a rock. Full strength damage on thrown weapons from a raging barbarian? Seriously? The rock did massive damage. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse as Asparagus Jones struggled and failed to land a hit on the nightgaunt, while Blackwarm's Scorching Ray went wide of the mark. It was all up to Hopeless Hans. A 19! A palpable hit! The nightgaunt had 6 hit points left, and Hans rolled... an 8! The nightgaunt plummeted. I gave Asparagus Jones a 50/50 chance of being on top when they hit the ground, and he rolled... poorly. 2d6 to the ghoul was sure to kill him, right? Wrong! A total of 5 on 2d6 and Asparagus Jones survived the evening!
The victorious party moved south to where the unicorn had been heading and found the body of an emaciated patient. Hans suggested that he was probably the source of the haunt, and they needed to give him a proper burial. Blackwarm, being Blackwarm, looted the poor boy's body, earning himself a Ring of Sustenance for his troubles. Neirida had a brilliant idea. With Bull's Strength from Hans and 7 rounds of rage left, she assailed the southern wall, breaking a hole in it just large enough for the party to slip through. Even better, she managed to pick a portion of wall that led into a closet. They spent some time camouflaging the hole, and Hans' roll (with assistance) of 29 ensured the cultists were unlikely to ever find it. They tied up Asparagus Jones securely in the closet and moved back to the chapel.
Captain York and Winter were ecstatic to see them, and eagerly listened to their report. The fact that killing a single oneirogen lessened the mist so much meant that there were probably only 2-3 more, and if the party could kill them, the survivors would be free! Winter assured them she'd perform proper rights over the poor lad they'd brought back. Captain York and his men set about starting up the boilers, now that (thanks to Helden's heroic efforts) they had plenty of wood. Winter strongly encouraged the party to stay the night in the chapel. Hans, having no abilities left and being Fatigued, agreed with Winter. Neirida finally acquiesced, and the party got a good dinner (Helden got a 22 on his Profession: Cook roll) and a good night's rest.
At the end of the session, the party leveled up to 4th level.
LOL. Yeah. I was pretty sad. We had all kinds of fun with Handy, and when I rolled a 9 on the damage I was happy because I thought I hadn't killed him.
On the bright side, Blackwarm cut off the nightgaunt's hand in the hopes of creating a new Handy. He just needs to hit level 5 and get the precious, precious Animate Dead.
I'm sure Neirida can't wait for THAT particular development...
|The Mad Comrade|
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Session 11: The Fall of the Tatterman, played 23-May-2017
I dropped the haunt entirely. If you're going to have creatures that significantly impact visibility, don't add effects that rely on vision, please.
I chose the latter course. It turned out to be unfortunate because, without having ever read the Tatterman's stat block, I gave Hans Flame Blade just so he might be able to hit something occasionally. But sometimes your GMNPC just gets to be the hero. And let's be blunt; Neirida's far-too-infrequent hits were the game-changer in every fight we had. Hans just contributed a loss of regeneration.
The party woke up fully rested and ready to go in the chapel. They first made sure the boilers were still working (they were), then headed to the closet in which they'd left Asparagus Jones. As all undead are wont to do, Asparagus was free from Blackwarm's control... again. "I'll kill you! I'll tear off your wings and..."
"There, there. It's OK. You're just going through a phase..."
One Control Undead and Asparagus Jones was Blackwarm's again. (I swear, one of these days my ghouls are going to roll over a 3 on their Will saves.) They uncovered the hole to the courtyard and discovered, much to their dismay, boiling rain. Helden stuck a piece of wood in it. Because... Helden.
After some discussion of the alternatives, they decided to break apart some of the bookcases in the library to build themselves makeshift wooden "umbrellas". They raced across the courtyard as fast as Hans could move, but in a bit of a precursor for things to come, both Neirida and Hans missed Reflex saves and took damage from the rain.
Once they were back in the "ghoul section" of the asylum, they tried to set about using the showers to clean out the gore in the pool. Blackwarm managed to figure out the controls, but the massive amount of gore was more than mere showers could handle. "Asparagus Jones! Go eat as much as you can!"
Asparagus Jones gleefully leapt to his task, swimming in the rotting-flesh-strewn waters. Neirida was nonplussed. "How is eating a burrito-sized bit of flesh going to help?"
"Oh, Asparagus Jones has a BIG stomach, right Asparagus?"
Unfortunately, Neirida's cool head and common sense eventually prevailed, and Blackwarm set Asparagus Jones to fishing all the bodies and body parts out of the pool and stacking them in a pile in the corner. Asparagus Jones was almost too joyful with this task, as Blackwarm had told him to go ahead and eat as much as he could. Disgusted, Neirida led the party away, leaving Asparagus Jones to his task.
They retrieved poor Ilki Volost, who was a bit worse for wear for having spent another night in the asylum, but another Lesser Restoration from Hans' wand kept him alive for another day.
After a remarkable amount of discussion as to what to do next (try to court the voonith and go through the haunt, or fight through the blockaded door while standing in the boiling rain?), the party chose the boiling rain. Helden, with the highest Reflex save, went first. He pounded on the door, and when Ivory asked who it was and he replied, she asked, "How do I know you ain't a ghoul?"
Cue a wonderful 6 on his Diplomacy roll to convince her he was legitimate (while standing in boiling rain), then a 12 on his Bluff check to convince her he was Jesus and she should therefore let him in.
Neirida sighed and took over. Unfortunately, as NobodysWife will attest, her die rolling has been out-and-out appalling this entire campaign. Neirida's Diplomacy roll of 3 ensured the door would remain locked forever. Neirida gave up, and smashed the door down. Sometimes, a greatsword is all the Diplomacy you need. Once Ivory could see them, she was willing to help, but the new apostles in the kitchen still mistrusted the newcomers. Fortunately, Neirida made short work of the rest of the door and the barricade, convincing the apostles to stand down.
Neirida's response to their questioning was that the ghouls were dead, she hadn't found the lookout she was supposed to find (a clever ploy to learn whether they knew about the oneirogen, but they didn't), and she was fed up with them. They told her to report to Zandalus.
The party moved on to speak to Dr. Elbourne. The moment the "doctor" tried to treat Ilki, the jig was up; with no ranks in Heal, it was obvious he had no idea what he was doing. Neirida glared at him. "I have no idea who you are, or what game you think you're playing, but you're trying to help, and I appreciate that. So, what should we do?"
Dr. Elbourne handed over a potion of Cure Moderate Wounds, a potion of Remove Disease, and a wand of Cure Light Wounds. Neirida could barely contain her irritation. "Hans, will this work on ghoul fever?"
"Use it, then."
Hans rolled massively (I think it was a 19), and Ilki was cured... by the potion "Dr." Elbourne had in his possession, but hadn't known to use! So much for his "disguise"!
Hoping to try the diplomatic route first (in spite of Dr. Elbourne's insistence that they go up and slay Zandalus), the party cast only non-obvious buffs on themselves: Bull's Strength, Protection from Evil, and Barkskin on Neirida, and virtually nothing on anyone else. Going up the stairs, they found two apostles playing cards, a third lounging in his cot, and a horrible old woman (Aggra "Bag Lady" Loomis) in her own cot across the room. Neirida asked to see Zandalus, and the apostles refused. Aggra stirred and asked whether it was time to kill them. An apostle replied that they were just "stupid noobs" and he was sending them back downstairs. In an utter surprise to the GM, Neirida turned around, accused the apostles of having murdered Zandalus, and attacked.
The fight would not have been notable save for Neirida's amazngly bad rolling. She was at something on the order of +10 to hit, but miss after miss after miss on Aggra and I believe she burned a Hero Point just to get in a solid hit. I know Hans burned a Hero Point for her. Fortunately, Aggra's die was almost as bad, and neither side did a ton of damage to the other, and Hans spent most of his time healing Helden, who somehow was managing to get himself hit by a cultist in spite of all the abysmal rolls. Eventually, the cultists fell, Helden flanked Aggra, and Neirida cut her clean in half.
What followed was one of the most bizarre, most hilarious interchanges I've seen in ages. Blackwarm moved over and cut off Aggra's hands.
Neirida was appalled. "What are you DOING?!?!"
"Well, she's not using them any more..."
"I know that but..."
"And I thought I might be able to use them..."
"NO! Put them back! That is horrible! Don't take her hands!"
"Why not? They're perfectly good hands! And I can use them. And she was really strong, and..."
"Just because she was strong doesn't mean the hands will be strong! What you're doing is just gross and horrible!"
Blackwarm put one of the hands down. On Aggra's face. More arguments. Blackwarm sheepishly put the other hand down. Neirida turned to move on. Blackwarm tried to Sleight of Hand the hand. Yes, I was delighted as well. Neirida noticed. More arguments.
Blackwarm finally had to move on, hands-free. It was hands-down the best exchange this year. We all gave them a hand.
OK. I'm done. Kind of.
Moving into the next room, the party easily discerned three denser areas of yellow fog in the low visibility, and the party quickly slaughtered all three oneirogens, but not before Neirida had to burn another Hero Point just to make her Will save to avoid falling asleep in one of the oneirogen's auras. The next hallway led to none other than Ulver Zandalus himself! He had clearly been meditating, but staggered up like a puppet on strings and screamed, "You're supposed to be dead! I already killed you! Why aren't you dead?"
Unfortunately, caster, uneven floor, small room, Neirida. Ulver didn't last more than 2 rounds.
As he fell, his body started dissolving into yellow mist. Helden leaned in to figure out what was going on, only to hear maniacal cackling. "Free at last! Free at last! Now to spread terror and bloodshed across this world!"
The Tatterman materialized. Unfortunately for him, Neirida had declared that she'd hit him the moment he finished materializing, so his first act was to get whacked by a greatsword as a declared action. Not fun. He slashed at Neirida and drew blood, Helden started moving into position, Blackwarm used Acid Splash but missed, and then came Hans. Poor, unassuming Hans. When he went up to 4th level, I looked at all the shaman spells and thought, "Hey! Flame Blade! It's a melee touch attack! Maybe Hans can finally hit something."
So he swung. A natural 19. I don't know whether this was technically correct, but when a spell description says, "Works like a scimitar," I assume it means, "Works like a scimitar", with a crit range of 18-20. I rolled again. A natural 20. I rolled again. A 17. A confirmed double crit with a Flame Blade ensured the Tatterman's full attention was on Hans. He had originally had his fear aura turned off (I figured making everyone run away makes it harder to chop them up), but at this point he was hurting pretty badly so he activated it. Blackwarm and (of course) Neirida failed their saves. But wait! Neirida had the Talisman of Warrior's Courage! She was NOT panicked! Furious, she swung again. Hans burned another Hero Point to ensure she hit again. Helden stabbed him and the backstab damage was enough to drop the Tatterman! Neirida beheaded him, and we declared it a great stopping point for the evening. (But not before Blackwarm demanded to know why Neirida was allowed to take the Tatterman's head, but he wasn't allowed to take Aggra's hands.)
Session 12: Goodbye, Asparagus Jones, played 30-May-2017
Fortunately, Tito was responsible for Book 5, Tide of Honor, whose O-Sayumi quest moved me so deeply I wished the entire book had been written around it. But it was also a remarkable book because it truly provided player agency: "Here are several things that need to be taken care of. Inform the players of what they are, what the repercussions of each are, and let the players choose how they want to proceed."
So, all that being said, I'm loving the way Tito organized Book 2 of Strange Aeons as well. Book 1 was magnificent because of an ingenious map design that let players do the book section-by-section, while still trapped within a single building, and yet they never felt they were being led by the nose. Book 2 starts off continuing this excellent trend: The PCs arrived in Thrushmoor and suddenly had half a dozen things that needed taking care of, and the order in which they do these things is totally up to them.
I'm really respecting the writers of the AP so far for providing an AP that feels utterly creepy (as any Call of Cthulu-based campaign should), gives the players the feeling of agency (as every AP book should), and yet doesn't overwhelm me with a dozen NPCs I have to understand and roleplay well.
So far, so good.
Also, it was rather amusing that last night was one of the sessions that I love running -- almost 100% roleplay, virtually no die rolling. And much to my astonishment, Impus Major complained about it! He's usually really into the roleplay, so it surprised me quite a bit to have him complain about a lack of combat. Especially considering that low-level necromancers aren't exactly known for their combat expertise.
Finally, Winter. Oh, gods, Winter. They give me an utterly-magnificent cleric to run, who can easily be the driving personality for the campaign... and she's a 3rd-level lackey of someone far more important?
I am absolutely taking Tito's advice and leveling her up with the party; leaving her at 3rd level and in danger of being killed by any random CR4 encounter that comes along is downright unkind to her force of personality.
Anyway, here we go...
One of the big issues with running a "roleplay-heavy" group is that they sometimes forget the basics... like searching every room for loot and so forth. So as we started the session, I reminded them that they hadn't looted the Tatterman's corpse. After they searched him and got the war razor and Ring of Protection, they were going to move on and it took a bit of prodding to ask, "Aren't you going to search the room as well?"
That was all the priming that they needed, and things went smoothly from there on out.
They searched Zandalus' dessicated corpse and got a variety of potions and a +1 light mace, searched the room and looted Zandalus' sketches (Blackwarm has been maxing out Appraise because... tengu!), then found the coinage and extra wand, scroll, and potions in the mattress. Perhaps most entertainingly/interestingly, they found the Chain of Nights and attached no particular significance to it. I had Neirida's player re-read the handouts on it just so she'd understand it was some kind of important item. So on the bright side, they knew it was something important. On the down side, the AP didn't emphasize just how important. Neirida realized that she might need some leverage with Zandalus' supporters downstairs, so she scooped up Zandulus' dessicated body and carried it with her.
Moving back through the rooms, in the oneirogen room they found hundreds of sketches on the wall, on the back of each was writing that seemed to be in the form of some kind of mystical book, so they spent the time to get all of the pages down, figuring they could assemble them in order at a later date. Looting Aggra, they found her Bracers of Armor+2, which Blackwarm promptly appropriated.
Neirida had already prepared a dozen excuses for when they came down the stairs, but it quickly became obvious that any excuses were unnecessary; the moment the yellow mist had dispersed and allowed the patients their freedom, most of them had swarmed outside to frolic in the rain. They checked in with "Dr." Elbourne, who assured them that all was well, and moved into the main area looking for Ivory. They found her in the central courtyard, playing tag with many of the patients. Many others were in various states of undress, scrubbing the yellow symbols off of themselves. Ivory reassured them that all the patients wanted was for things to return to normal, and were completely willing to abandon Zandalus' cause in favor of "normalcy".
The party started heading back for the chapel, seeing patients running free everywhere, when a horrible thought struck them: What of Asparagus Jones? They raced back to the ghoul area, only to find Asparagus Jones still dutifully piling bodies. In a magnificent bit of roleplay, Blackwarm told Asparagus Jones that it was time for him to go, Asparagus Jones pleaded for his life while still stacking bodies as he was ordered to do, Blackwarm had him look away, and Neirida cleanly beheaded him. Poor Asparagus Jones! But as Blackwarm said, there's no place in civilized society for ghouls.
Arriving at the chapel, they found several patients being held at bay by Captain York and his men. Neirida spoke to both Winter and Captain York: The threat was over, Zandalus was no more, and they now only had to deal with a building full of asylum residents who had been running uncontrolled for the last week or so. Winter could work with that. Neirida showed Winter around the facility, explaining what they'd encountered, who they'd fought, who'd helped them, and so forth. Eventually, Winter saw that her people were fed (thanks to Helden's Profession: Cook roll since Ivory horrifically missed hers), all 50-odd survivors got to spend the night in the chapel, safe from bad dreams, the original cook received a proper burial and gratitude from the patients for his concern for them, and the party got a full night's rest.
In the morning, the party approached the rowboat apprehensively: Only 6 people could get back to Thrushmoor, one of those people would have to row back to the asylum, and the other 5 would have to ascertain the threat level present in the city and decide whether to bring the patients back to Thrushmoor, or leave them safe in the asylum, providing provisions as needed to keep them fed and happy. The party quickly decided that they would go, along with Winter, and leave Ivory and "Dr." Elbourne in charge. Neirida made a magnififent speech to "Dr." Elbourne about how his leadership could determine whether he was a staff member or a patient going forward, and they headed for Thrushmoor.
Captain York rowed them over and let them off just behind the Wailing House; it was an inconspicuous place to land, but close enough to the New Chapel that Winter could check in and start making arrangements for the patients. As they neared the New Chapel, they spotted a commotion around a house roughly 200' north of the chapel: A group of angry villagers was yelling threats at whoever was in the house, saying that they knew he was responsible for the murals, and if he didn't come out they'd burn him out. As Neirida moved forward to intervene, a half-elf stepped out of the house, impatiently explaining to the gathered crowd that the work on the murals was obviously below his standards, as any oaf could see, and they clearly had the wrong man. As tensions mounted, Blackwarm unrolled one of Zandalus' sketches. He called out, "Do the murals look like this?"
The crowd reacted immediately. "That must be the guy who's doing it! Get him!!"
The combat was unfortunate. Winter dropped Calm Emotions on the crowd, convincing 6 of the 9 villagers to stop their attack. Neirida tried to Intimidate the other 3, but after a magnificent speech, the 4 on her die (+8 = 12) was far insufficient to quell the rioting mob. Helden and Blackwarm waited, Hans tried and failed with his Slumber hex yet again, and the first man to run up got a faceful of Neirida's greatsword (nonlethally, of course) and dropped. The second swung a fist at Neirida, and her attack of opportunity knocked him unconscious as well, and she tried another Intimidate, this time using Hero Labs on her iPad. A 3?!?! We seriously need to get a decent die for Neirida. The dice are ruining her storytelling! Helden bull rushed the third onto his back, but Hans' follow-up to knock him out was a clean miss, leading the entire party to wonder how you could possibly miss a prone AC 9 peasant. He surrendered anyway.
Neirida ordered the villagers to carry off their unconscious and spoke to the half-elf, one Lelwyn Hasok. He explained that he'd been hired to do some artwork in the chapel, but the priestess, Trilliss Mavaine, has been missing for days, so he'd been both doing his artwork and taking care of the chapel. Over the last few days, dozens of villagers had gone missing as well, and strange murals of bizarre cityscapes had been appearing on walls throughout the town. As the only new artist in town, the villagers blamed him. As gratitude for saving him, he gave the party a Bag of Holding and 500 g.p. (cue massive suspension of disbelief at the level of this reward), and offered to let them stay in the church-owned building next to his studio, both out of charity and out of fear for his own skin. Winter asked him about Royal Accuser Omari, and he admitted he hadn't seen her since the priestess left. Winter paled. Blackwarm asked him about his paintings and about the murals, and he led them into his studio, wherein he was working on a triptych showing three eerie cities in the background, fronted by... the four PCs! Aghast, Lelwyn swore he'd never met the PCs before, but the images had come to him as, "Thrushmoor's destiny depends on them."
He offered them 10 g.p. apiece to come sit for him at some point so he could finish the painting. (Cueing more laughter -- "Here's a 3000 g.p. reward for saving me! Now let me pay you a pittance to let me paint you!")
Winter suggested that they next visit the Sleepless Detective Agency, the rendezvous point for her and the other members of her investigation in case things went wrong. The party quickly agreed. Knocking at the door, the group had to wait a significant amount of time before a woman answered. She recognized Winter immediately, beamed broadly, and was about to invite her in when she saw the others.
"What are they doing here?"
"They helped me escape the asylum and return."
"But... they work for Count Lowls. Didn't you know that?!?!"
LOTS of fun roleplay ensued. The group had to wait a few minutes for the head of the Sleepless Agency, Cesadia Wrentz, to emerge. During their wait, Winter asked whether it was OK for her to divulge their amnesia. Neirida put it best. "Why not? It's the truth, and it can't hurt."
Cesadia was just as nonplussed as her employee to see the party members. After Winter and the group explained in detail the happenings at the asylum, and Neirida even went so far as to describe the admission papers they had seen about themselves, Cesadia informed them that they were well-known thugs for Lowls, with Neirida having gone so far as to threaten one of Wrentz's agents for, "Sticking her nose where it didn't belong."
Cesadia warned them that they might have unknown enemies in town who still held a grudge against them, and yet she had need of capable hands to perform tasks for her. Perhaps the safest for all involved was for them to investigate the "witch".
Nearly 700 years before, a woman named Ariadnah had come to Thrusmoor and turned them away from worship of Pharasma and towards false and evil gods. When an inquisitor was dispatched to put down this witch, he found nothing but an abandoned city. This event was referred to as the "Thrushmoor Vanishing", and many villagers believe the witch Ariadnah still resides at the bottom of the lake, waiting to one day again take all the villagers away. Rumors were flying that the witch had returned, including a fisherman who claimed to have seen her in a nearby grotto. Cesadia asked the party to investigate the grotto and find out what was going on there. It would be safe work, away from the town, and would get one less thing off her plate.
The party readily agreed, and prepared to move on the grotto.
Session 13: The Investigation Commences, played 06-Jun-2017
I was just trying to clean up what I'd told the group last night, and it's really quite a mess: Lowls turns over the PCs, then there are a spate of kidnappings, then the priestess vanishes, then 2 days pass so Lelwyn can report it, then Royal Accuser Omari arrives, and only then can there be an asylum revolt in the first place, as Winter has to be there for the start of the revolt. And that's at least 2 days before the PCs wake up, because the asylum has to be in full lockdown by the time they're awake. At best that's at least 7 days between the PCs being put to sleep and them waking up.
PLEASE, AP writers: Put every event before the PCs come into play on a concrete date so I can set up the timeline for them! Once the PCs are awake, keeping things vague is fantastic. But last night as Neirida tried to piece together their own past in conjunction with the events of the city, it was utterly painful to try to give her information while contradicting myself because I was looking at multiple sources from two books, and it was a nightmare trying to get it all straight.
Otherwise, it was another roleplay-only night, but this time the story was interesting enough to keep the kids invested.
As the party prepared to assail the grotto, they recognized one fundamental flaw in their plans: They had no idea where it was. Speaking with Cesadia, they realized that Toli Remsatter (the fisherman who had reported seeing the witch) was unlikely to return before nightfall, so they had almost an entire day to wait before he would appear. They set to important business. First and foremost was to distrubute the loot they'd recovered from the asylum. Hans got the +1 light mace, Helden got the +1 Ring of Protection, and Winter got the wand of Command. As for the Type I Bag of Holding, a hilarious argument between Neirida and Blackwarm broke out over it. Blackwarm wanted to carry it, but wouldn't explain why. Neirida accused him of wanting to store undead abominations in it. Blackwarm would neither confirm nor deny this accusation, but still wanted the bag. Neirida refused. Eventually it was put to a party vote, with Hans and Neirida voting in favor of Neirida carrying the bag, Blackwarm voting for himself carrying the bag, and Helden abstaining.
The next order of business was to get the patients of the asylum fed. Neirida spent 11 gold pieces of her personal cash to buy 100 pounds of fish, 50 pounds of onions, and 50 pounds of leeks to send to the asylum so that Ivory could make a nice fish stew for everyone. Winter took the time to express her appreciation that, no matter what the party had been like in the past, they were now going out of the way to protect and care for the weak and helpless, so they obviously had turned over a new leaf and were good people now. After some discussion as to NPC dispositions, the party had Winter and Captain York deliver the food to the asylum. (There's the whole, "You can have Winter accompany the PCs as an NPC," and they decided that Hans was "good enough".) Once caring for the needy was taken care of, they decided to explore the New Chapel.
They spent some time examining the cityscape depicted in chalk on the outside of the chapel, but could make little sense of it; more than anything else, it seemed like someone's abstract drawing of a cityscape, as if a druid who had never been to a city but had had cities described to him had been asked to draw a city. On entering, they encountered Lelwyn Hasock, dutifully working on the interior murals of the chapel. He welcomed them warmly, explaining that he had been paid in advance to decorate the chapel, so, even in the absence of the priestess, he was bound and determined to complete the work for which he had been commissioned. Looking at his work, it was obvious that he wasn't responsible for the murals outside; his work was far more detailed and "artistic".
Exploring the chapel, they found a sanctuary, infirmary, and (locked) rectory. There was nothing of interest in the sanctuary nor the infirmary, so Helden unlocked the rectory (Impus Minor insists that it be canon that all of Helden's lockpicking tools are just various-sized pieces of wood. Color me... skeptical...). The rectory itself was a perfectly-pleasant residence for the priestess: A straw bed, wardrobe, writing desk, fireplace, and lamp. Exploring the writing desk, Neirida discovered a journal detailing the daily business of the church: Who visited, what income came in, what expenses were made, and so forth. It was all very dry, but the last entry was from 10 days ago, at least providing a starting timeline that they could start piecing together.
Neirida had Hans do a thorough search of the desk, and yet again the accursed spirit shaman's ludicrous skills got him a 35 Perception check, revealing a locked hidden drawer in the desk. Helden had only a little more difficulty opening this one, and Priestess Trilliss Mavaine's diary was revealed! It was clear that she had issues with Count Lowls for his refusal to get involved in caring for his citizens, Magistrate Padgett for only caring about dealing with lawbreakers, and not those who needed help before they were forced to break the law, and Sentilar Ruoy for his vocal denunciations of all religions, Pharasma in particular. Putting together a timeline, they learned:
Notice how stretched out this time frame is compared to the frenetic pace depicted in the book. BOY, would a single graphic with a timeline have helped!
There was a quick realization that they had the book The Chain of Nights in their possession, so they spent some time letting Blackwarm decipher it, learning of the Release Nightmare ritual that had likely turned Administrator Lossandro and the others into oneirogens. Blackwarm held onto the book for future study.
Anyway, the party decided that their next order of business was to meet with Toli and have him take them to the cave. They waited for Winter at the shore, verified that she'd successfully dropped off the food, and suggested that Winter remain at the Asylum to ensure the patients were safe until Thrushmoor was secure. They then went to the Fish Market, determined that Toli would arrive when the fishing boats came in, and waited. To everyone's surprise, the fishing boats came back in about 3 hours before sunset, ensuring they could unload, get cleaned and prepared for the evening, and their owners could go home, all before dark. Neirida rolled a magnificent Diplomacy roll to convince one of the fish market workers to point her to Toli (when your Diplomacy skill is +1, a 20 is something special). It was kind of funny, though. She asked, "Is there anyone here who can tell me tall tales?", and he responded, "Oh, you're looking for Toli and his talk of the Thrushmoor Witch, are ye? Well, his berth be over yonder!"
Notice that he didn't say anything about good tales!
So Neirida asked Toli to tell her a tale, and his entire response was pretty much, "Yeah, I saw her."
Neirida didn't find it a very good tale.
A bit of negotiation later, Toli agreed to drop the party near the cave during the daytime, when he felt it was safer, for the king's ransom of 2 gold pieces.
As the party settled in at the building Lelwyn had suggested and Blackwarm and Hans started preparing spells to combat a witch, we decided to stop for the night.
Total Aside: My group has taken me to task for not describing the fate of the voonith. There is a wonderful treasure hoard in the book of "16 pieces of finger-sized jerky". The party saw this as a sign, and used the jerky and a series of mediocre Handle Animal rolls to lure the voonith to the front door of the asylum. Once it saw the lake outside, off it went. Helden plans on taking the Leadership feat as soon as possible, and taking the voonith as his follower.
It should be... interesting, to say the least...
|The Mad Comrade|
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Session 14: How to Deal with Witches, played 13-Jun-2017
Then, along came the dice.
Last night was one of those nights where the dice told more of the story than the players did. In the first two rounds of combat against the assassin vine, there were FOUR 1s rolled by various players, including the GM. In fact, the vine itself had rolls of 1, 13, 1, 4, 20, 4, 6 for its existence. Notice that's "not quite a fumble, fumble, not quite a crit, miss". The wolves were similar: For the entire combat with the wolves, they hit once. It would have been frustrating, if the party weren't rolling just as badly. Combats dragged on because no one was capable of rolling high enough to hit each other. Helden, a full rogue, managed to miss his Perception checks on every trap in the building.
Just one of those nights...
Finally, it didn't help that the energy level was extremely low last night -- it was hard to get all 4 people at the table. I know it's the last week of school for Impus Minor, and finals week for Impus Major, but it was so bad I suggested quitting at 8:20 pm just because no one seemed interested. Impus Major insisted that he wanted to finish off the cave, so we went ahead and finished things off.
I am never one to prevent a retcon of shopping. The party realized that they had all day in Thrushmoor, they had a great deal of cash, and, even more importantly, they had quite a few of Zandalus' paintings they might be able to offload to an unscrupulous dealer. I described the general city to them: With a population of just under 3500, mainly fishermen, farmers, and carpenters, it was easy to find day-to-day tools and working implements, but much harder to find a decent sword, adventuring pack, or suit of armor. Even the dwarven smith focused on eccentric trinkets rather than items useful to adventurers. On the other hand, the upscale High Mart was sure to have the items they were seeking -- rapiers, composite longbows, and so forth -- as long as they didn't mind paying masterwork prices for them.
Neirida had a plan. She would play the gruff adventurer, Hans would be the noble gentleman and financier, and Helden and especially Blackwarm would stay out of sight. She entered the High Mart to many derisive glares (Hans just didn't make a very good nobleman, having no decent clothes for the ruse), but a massive roll of 34 on Sense Motive (have I mentioned what unbelievable skill monkeys spirit shamans are?), Hans steered Neirida to a dimly-lit stand in one of the darkest corners of the mart. The greasy, stringy-haired old man behind the desk was a living stereotype: One eye squinted uncontollably, the other was black and curious. The desk was adorned with human skulls, preserved creatures in jars, arcane and dusty tomes, and candles advertised to be made of "real human tallow", whatever that was. He even had a slight hunch in his back. Neirida was sure she'd found her man.
She went into a long, rambling tale about how she was an adventurer, braving the darkest depths and depraved ruins in order to bring unusual treasures back to the light of day, finally providing the man, Brewster Tincture, a glimpse of one of Zandalus' drawings. Brewster recognized the drawing the moment he saw it, cleared the trinkets from his table with a crashing sweep of his arm, and demanded a closer inspection of the drawing. On confirming it was indeed a genuine Zandalus, he offered Neirida 50 gold apiece for the entire lot, sight unseen, for a total of 1200 gold pieces. She agreed. She then offered to sell him the ornamental harrow deck for another 100 gold pieces. On seing his reaction, Hans winced; they had significantly undersold it. Brewster gleefully agreed, carefully counting out 130 platinum pieces for the scarred barbarian. Then, thinking better of it, he realized she had been looting the asylum, and was likely to have many more such treasures in the near future.
"Well, now, my dear. It's obvious to me that you've been at the asylum. How is it doing? Ah, well, no, no, better that I ask no questions. I'll tell you that you have made me very rich today, and I greatly appreciate your business! I'll just let you know that I do sell onyxes so you can grind them up to make a refreshing tonic to soothe your aching bones. And that deck you sold me? Someone undervalued it to you."
He slid her another 15 platinum pieces to make up the difference, knowing full well that if he stayed in her good graces he would make it up again tenfold, if not a hundredfold.
Neirida took the opportunity of his glee to ask him about the visiting nobles. Since she was doing the interaction and not Hans, I made her make the Diplomacy check. A nigh-miraculous 15 was enough for him to reveal what he considered 'harmless' information: "Well, if y'ask me, young miss, they t'ain't like no nobles from around here. They have an undue interest in the macabre. Know all those paintings you just sold me? I expect I'll have sold out of 'em tonight, at a tidy profit, thanks to our visitors."
He let out a hearty cackle that seemed almost to devolve into a cough, and Neirida assured him, "Well, it is only right and proper that you make a profit."
"Oh, aren't you a sweetie? Yeah, they'll buy everything you just sold me, cheerfully, no questions asked. And if you bring back any more, you can bring it to me, and I'll sell it to them, and they'll never know you were involved. I don't know whether they're from northern Ustalav or what, but their tastes run dark... the darker the better. You'd best let me be your middleman with them."
Neirida thanked the "gentleman", walked away, shuddered, nearly threw up, and considered getting herself a bath to wash the sense of the man off of her. Instead, she dutifully distributed the gold. Blackwarm hoarded his, of course, while Helden got himself a nice masterwork rapier, and Neirida herself borrowed a bit from Hans to be able to afford a masterwork composite longbow adjusted for her strength. As she told Hans, "We're about to fight a witch, and I don't know whether witches fly, but if she can, I'm going to look really silly standing there on the ground looking up at her."
Shopping complete, the party slept for the evening in the empty building Lelwyn had indicated, got up at dawn, and headed over to meet Toli for their ride to the witch's lair. He rowed them along the shoreline, stopped about a hundred yards from the cave, and asked whether they wanted to be rowed right up to the entrance, or whether they'd rather climb. Taking one look at Blackwarm (and Hans), the group decided to take their chances being rowed to the entrance. Unfortunately for them, an assassin vine was right there waiting for them, blocking the entrance. Unfortunately for it, Helden made a marvelous Perception roll and recognized that what was blocking the entrance was not a multitude of smaller vines, but one giant plant. In a rather curious suprise round, Blackwarm decided to use Acid Splash on the plant while everyone else watched. He did his whopping 1 point of damage, and we were in initiatives. I thought the assassin vine might be dangerous to the party, but with the hopeless rolling detailed above, it did very little beyond demonstrating its abilities: Biting (poorly), grabbing (even more poorly), using Entangle on surrounding plants (Neirida and Helden saved, rendering it a rather pointless attempt), and dying when getting hit enough by Neirida and Helden (and let's not forget Blackwarm's precious, precious Acid Splashes, that contributed a total of around 5 points of damage). Surprisingly, and unbeknownst to the party, the noise didn't wake up the witch. (Stupid thick doors and their Perception roll modifiers!)
Stepping forward, the party learned that Helden's Perception wasn't all it was cracked up to be, so he and Neirida set off a tripwire and were hit by poisoned blades. They both shook off the poison effortlessly.
The next room was rather odd: The entrance was small-ish (5' high), and the room seemed empty. Since Neirida and Blackwarm volunteered to assist Hans in searching, while Helden said he would do his own search, I had the phantom fungus ambush him. Unfortunately, Uncanny Dodge saved him from the fungus' massive damage, and, in a "D'oh" moment for the GM, it rolled such a low initiative that the party managed to surround it (even invisible) before it had a turn. Helden missed because of its invisibility twice. Neirida and Hans just plain missed. Blackwarm couldn't figure out what to do against an invisible opponent. So its turn came around, it missed again, and it had... nowhere to go. It was stuck standing still, with everyone in the party knowing where it was. This was... not good. Neirida, apparently not holding much sympathy for the invisible creature, crit it for 36 points of damage. So much for the mushroom.
Moving on, the party came to a massive, crudely-constructed "door" blocking the passage deeper into the caves. By this time the witch had heard the commotion and was fully-prepared, while the party had missed her casting so they weren't. In a wonderful surprise round, as they opened the gate her fungal wolves ran up to block the passage and she hit Neirida with a firey ball from Produce Flame. As a reward, Neirida crit again, cutting one of the witch's wolves clean in half. Helden missed his wolf, while Hans put Resist Energy:Fire on Neirida. Blackwarm missed the witch with a Scorching Ray. The witch responded by using Call Lightning to great effect, doing another 16 points of damage to Neirida. "You know what would be really GREAT, Hans? Some HEALING!" she growled as she flew into a rage, charged past the other fungal wolf (it hit for a whopping 11 points of damage, but failed to trip her), swung at the witch... and missed!
Helden followed suit, using Acrobatics to move past the wolf and flank the witch. Hans followed, learning that the wolf did not have Combat Reflexes, and healed Neirida for 10. Blackwarm, in a wonderfully magnanimous moment, moved past the wolf and placed himself in harm's way, directly between the wolf and Neirida.
So... suddenly my witch, rather than having a blocked hallway and plenty of space to maneuver and cast her spells, was surrounded by 3 PCs, including being flanked by a rogue. Her only chance seemed to be to get loose and slow them down with an Entangle. Again, the two most-critical PCs made their Reflex saves yet again, so Helden and Neirida chased her down and cut her to ribbons. The wolf attacked Blackwarm for decent damage, but failed to trip even the fragile tengu. Doing away with the wolf, the party surveyed their victory.
The room they were in was some kind of alchemical lab. On fumbling a Perception check to identify one of the potions, Hans quickly identified it as poison. A natural 20 on his Fortitude save made it far less hilarious than it should have been. Once Neirida knew that all the non-magical potions were poisons (or at least suspected as much), she had the party destroy them all. Even after Hans pointed out that they were worth money, and they knew a particularly sleazy buyer in Thrushmoor who would purchase them, no questions asked, Neirida pointed out that that particular unscrupulous vendor would then sell those same poisons to the "nobles", who would undoubtedly use them against the party. So, easier to destroy them now. Hans could not argue with that logic. The magical potions included several potions of Cure Light Wounds, Barkskin, and Hide from Animals, along with a note from Melisenn that she needed "more of your dream-inducing brews, as well as more of that oil." I was ecstatic when everyone recognized the name as the majordomo of Iris Hill.
The witch herself turned out to be named Daridela Cornett (I figure all bad guys have their names sewn on their underwear... or maybe on the shipping crates they have lying around the room), and was wearing +2 wooden armor and carrying a masterwork spear (claimed by Hans) and a scroll of Lesser Restoration (same). Once Hans assured Neirida that the witch was dead, Neirida beheaded her and put the head in a bag.
Moving on to her bedroom, they found little of interest except a locked chest. Once again, Helden missed his Perception check. Once again, the poisoned trap hit him. Once again, he made his Fortitude save with ease. Apparently, the party saved all of its good rolls for saving throws. Not a bad idea, I must say.
The chest was relatively uninteresting, carrying a few changes of clothes (including labeled underwear), a pot of something Neirida destroyed, and around 1600 gold pieces.
Victorious, Blackwarm immediately started marveling at how perfect a cave it was for him to raise his undead. He asked Neirida whether, once he found an evil cleric who would Desecrate the caves for him, she would bodyguard him against the cleric's malfeasance. Neirida was... nonplussed.
The party hailed Toli and rode back to the fishmarket. In a dashing bit of showmanship, Neirida walked in as all the fishermen came in, loudly announced, "So, I hear you have a witch problem. THIS is how WE deal with 'witch problems'!" and threw Daridela's head on the floor.
It was a wonderful capper on a strange evening.
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Yes...this goes back all the way to May...I had told my wife of Blackwarm's attempts to sleight of hand a pair of hands. The next day I sent her an email of "Neirida beheaded him, and we declared it a great stopping point for the evening. (But not before Blackwarm demanded to know why Neirida was allowed to take the Tatterman's head, but he wasn't allowed to take Aggra's hands.)"
So she responded. As for her #5 reason...well, Mia is her gnome wild experimenter/grenadier alchemist who collects "things". Could be interestingly colored bellybutton lint. Could be a dead mouse. Might be a chewed swizzlestick. Never know. The character is innocently insane and wholly lovable.
So, without further ado, The Response (that has been sitting in my work email for 2 months before I just found it again):
Reasons why I agree with Blackwarm:
#10 If you position the hand before rigor sets in it could be quite useful in many ways.
#9 Painting fingernails (to keep it pretty) is a lot easier than applying new makeup everyday.
#8 When animated, a hand is helpful. A head does what?!? Chew your food for you? *eww*
#7 A well trained animated hand can give you a good massage after a long day slaying dragons.
#6 Nobody will ever look at a hand and gasp "Ahhhhh! ...that was my Aunt Edna!"
#5 Mia approves
#4 Throw the hand up on a high shelf, it can throw down what you need... helpful, right!
#3 A hand can double for a grappling hook... a head can double for a.... hmmm... bowling ball?!?
#2 Hands are smaller than heads... they fit in your bag better.
and the #1 reason hands are better than heads.... They don't stare back at you! *shiver*