Friday, July 15, 2016

Session 13 - The Jewel of the Mind (Part 2)

Disclaimer: to understand the ins and out of this final play report, a prior reading of The Jewel of the Mind Part 1 and Campaign Background: The Seven Spires is advised. 

It is particularly strange for this DM to go back in time so long after the fact and try and piece together the detail of what turned out to be the last game session of the Praemal Tales. 

By that point in the campaign, I had come to realize that we were running out of time, and that some of the key players of our game would leave the island of Bella Bella forever very soon. It was the end of the school year, and some teachers either decided to move on with their lives, or didn't see their contracts renewed. It was in many ways the end of an era, an end that was coming way too fast for all of us involved in this game, and it was particularly hard to hasten it and make the last few sessions a satisfying end to two plus years of gaming together. 

As discussed in the prologue to Part 1 of the Jewel of the Mind, my back was against the wall. I could either make it safe and somewhat predictable, run with our handful of 5th level characters, and tie up the loose ends with what was given to us at that time. OR, I could find ways to immediately and somewhat artificially bump up the power level of the party in order to quickly work towards an apocalyptic, over-the-top closure to it all. 

I chose the latter, for two main reasons. One, there was no guarantee the ensemble of players we had at that point could ever meet again specifically to play a game of Dungeons & Dragons. The last nine years in hindsight have proven me right here. Finishing on a subtle, low-powered note was certainly possible, but also underwhelming. Two, pumping up the power level of the characters and party could be done in a way that would also tie loose ends and link all the games we had played together as a comprehensive whole, a single continuity or canon all the way from the start of the Seven Spires to this last game session in the Jewel of the Mind. 

Av itself, the Jewel of the Mind, and beyond, its role in the Path to Godhood devised by Parnaith in the world of Praemal represented the solution to all this. I had to make the Jewels my own, and reinterpret their nature and role in the big picture, using their original description in the Ptolus book as a starting point rather than an end onto itself, to get there and make the finale explode appropriately both for me and the players involved. 

I went on and though it started with Jewel of the Mind interacting with the players' characters and their equipment in strange ways (as described in part 1 of this session, where Beket, Hennie and Simone commune with the grand tapestry and feel themselves imbued by some wider power out there, whether it'd be the Old Man, the substance of Fire or Shadow for each of them respectively), I was still waiting for an occasion to go really wild with the idea and basically double the experience of levels of each party member outright. 

Not only did that opportunity naturally present itself when the players on their own volition suddenly decided they would drink the sap of the trees within the Jewel, a demi-plane outside of space and time that was directly connected to the archetypal concept of the Mind, but this action of the player took a life of its own as I got to interpret it on the spot and led to the substance of the plane and its trees becoming charged with potential realities and reflections of the Mind throughout the multiverse, culminating with the confrontation with Savvan and the reunification of these players' characters with their alter-egos of the Seven Spires. From there, not only would the characters be ready for the challenges of Goth Gulgamel, they would also have doubled in numbers, and therefore ready to take on some pretty powerful threats once they got there. 

The exploration of Goth Gulgamel and final confrontation with the alchemists of the Ogen Suhl would never come to pass. This report you are reading now was the end of the campaign, and I would be disappointed at the time we did not have the opportunity to finish it all. Little did I realize that this was in fact a worthy form of closure in and of itself, an open ended and bittersweet final chapter that would make me appreciate the existence of the whole that much better all these many years later. 

When I told Nerissa, who played Beket in these games, that I was writing this last game play report today and should probably have done so many years earlier, she responded: “But then again, perhaps not. Perhaps you needed that time to digest it all and finally tell the end of the story with something more to say today than you otherwise would have written in the past.” 

I will let readers judge for themselves.

Session 13 – The Jewel of the Mind (Cont'd) 

Still the 27th of Rain

The girls stare at the hands they just used to cup the sap from the trees of the Jewel of the Mind and drink it. The light plays across the smooth surface of thick, treacly amber coating their fingers. Within the sap, ephemeral figures take shape, dance and die before them as that many visions born out of worlds and existences that never were. The substance of the Jewel fades, revealing many shades of the earth, multiple and yet all linked together by the common substance of Av. 


For a moment, the figure of a young boy is more distinct than the others. He is wearing white robes, and stares at them with his bright blue eyes and unkempt, shaggy brown hair. A third eye, as clear and blue as those that already stared at them now, opens up on his forehead. The sound of trumpets rise as the outline of a golden hall becomes plainly visible in the distance. 

The child whispers: “Remember...” 

Clouds gather and the whole scene is smothered by the gathering dark. The light emanating from the child's eyes dies as the golden hall melts in the distance and morphs into a long hard tower of black volcanic glass. Screams of pain and distant wailing rise as a cold new dawn reveals the bleak surroundings of the tower. Crows fly overhead, thousands of bodies surrounding the base of the promontory where the tower rises defiantly towards the thick, swirling clouds above. 

The scene changes abruptly. Great stone chimes stand atop a mountain looming over the plains where the tower once stood. The wind blows violently, and the chimes send crystalline notes into the air which ultimately reverberate against the walls of the Bitter Peaks beyond.  Three tall giant figures clad in black stand motionless by the chimes, looking down upon the plains and the girls looking at them, as if suddenly standing alone in the wind-swept valley below.

For a split second, there is a burning sensation, as if the giants' stares burned their way through the girls' hearts. A bolt of red lightning flashes violently across the sky, and the chimes and giants are gone, replaced once again by the monolithic tower of obsidian. None of those who wailed a moment before are left alive. The crows are banqueting upon the thousands of bodies rotting everywhere, as far as the eye can see. A blood-soaked standard lays flat, dead, against the straight shaft of hornwood still upholding its weight. 

The child's voice can be heard in the distance: “Remember...” 

The thousands of corpses sprout moss, leaves and trees growing at a dramatic pace. From death springs new life, but this life is hungry, ravenous, unbound, and ends up devouring itself in an attempt to compensate for such carnage. It becomes the Emerald Death, a plague of life devouring life, of light devouring light, to the point it destroys all in its path. 


A sprawling city reveals itself to Beket, Hennie and Simone. A vague sensation of recognition, of familiarity flirts with the edge of their consciousness, as if the city was known to them. It is not Ptolus, it is not the City by the Spire, for this city lies in the shadow of seven peaks, seven spires rising high to the heavens above. The name almost comes back to them, but the girls' attention is suddenly diverted as the city is ripped apart by a forest growing at an alarming rate out of the streets, market places and buildings around.

Soon the forest grows into a jungle, and the jungle consumes the entire city. A shout pierces the air as a gaunt, bald wizard with black beard is slain by the students of Spellhold standing against the Emerald Death. The giant and the sibbecai and the faen and the elf stand next to their slate-skinned companion, Nuwah Kawah the Uladhrim, as she stares down at the voidless eyes of the wizard, his last scream echoing in the distance. 

The trees come alive as hundreds of chaos mandrils, blue gnolls and pig-like, diminutive orcs worshipping the Black Sow jump from branch to branch towards the great world tree now dominating the landscape. The humanoids reach the foliage, climb downward along the deep sinuous lines of the antediluvian trunk, and reach for the holes dug deep by the massive roots supporting it.

The minions of chaos squeeze and squirm through the tunnels of the Underworld. The forces of life seep away from the jungle and trail behind in bright arcs of viridian energy. Throngs gather before the Inverted Pyramid beneath the earth, the cyclopean crystal tomb standing impossibly high before the marbled eye that serves as its ultimate seal and doorway.   


The labyrinthine network of caves around the Inverted Pyramid now vomits a great host of men. They march towards the forces of chaos, their long, multicoloured banners unfurled by the light of bright torches and lanterns. Their leader stares with bright, intense amber eyes through the slits of her dragon helmet, her long black hair flowing in the back of her richly decorated armour, her grip tightening around the handle of a long sword made out of a shard of starlight. Andares d'Astradeen knows this is her last hour. She will die today, but perhaps her sacrifice will avert the end of the world as they know it. 

By the eye of the Pyramid now rises the Bonelord, the dreadful Herald of Doom, envoy of the God That Never Was and Should Not Have Been. His armour is made of the bones of all those heroes he killed during the many aeons of his cursed existence. His sword is but the long, curved fang of an ancient demon long defeated and forgotten on the burning fields of Hell. He looks down at the field of battle, blood flying everywhere as combatants swing their weapons at one another. The six burning skulls of the damned wizards who gave him birth swirl around him, deflecting missiles aimed at his position. He knows his hour has come. He knows this world is doomed. 

A mighty sorcerous blast tears apart the ranks of hill giants defending the Bonelord's position. The blood-soaked, crimson scaled Mojh, Slydracna, emerges from the carnage and walks to the Herald of Doom and meets him in single combat. Spells of concealment, magic missiles and blade flurries follow one another, and the Bonelord holds his ground. The eye of the Pyramid comes alive. The end of the world is nigh. 


Another plane, another time, giants dispatched by the horned devil Amalruth. The fierce dwarves of I'ix organize a counter-charge, wielding their ice-bladed axes as they run to meet the threat through the blizzard. The blinding flakes turn to ice shards cutting through their furred armour, turning them to shreds before they can reach their target. Jezabell, the fearsome winter witch, commands the storm forward, protecting her companions from certain destruction. The storm intensifies as many more foes fall prey to her spells. 

I remember,” The three girls finally answer with a single voice. 

Sa Qebah, the master assassin, the shapechanger and sellsword, shifts between her cheetah and human forms as she holds the dagger of cold iron that just bit into her flesh. A self-inflicted wound, a ultimate sacrificial act, for the sacrifice of a innocent life was needed for Eldariel the Archon to control the energie of the Pyramid and turn its opening, an act of cosmic destruction, into an act of opportunity, and new creation. The Archon cries as she witnesses the holocaust, peers beyond the crystal tomb deep inside the Inverted Pyramid, and sees the form of the All-Mother of Chaos take shape in the centre of the nexus. 

The great figure stands impossibly tall and slender, a great crown of horned protrusions topping a visage without age, neither human nor inhuman, with two great voids filling her empty orbits and a wide mouth lined with razor-sharp fangs of clear amethyst under them. A long blue tongue swirls around her like a whip. Two sets of bronze wings stretch high behind her back, each feather a key to a different world of possibilities and entropy. The All-Mother of Chaos extends her four sets of arms before her four sets of saggy breasts. Her hands stretch out, and now each one of her palms faces one of the cardinal directions of the compass. Eight eyes open up in the centre of her palms, and her teats let the pure energy of life and chaos flow away from her body, mixing with essence of the nexus and changing its destructive nature into the birth of many colours, the source of potential and multiplicity, the fountain of an infinite number of shades in the realm of eternity. 

A great Throne of Beryl now becomes distinct behind the gigantic form of the All-Mother. She gathers her four sets of arms and embraces her pregnant belly as she sits on the throne. The fabric of the world of the Seven Spires falls apart, but it is birthing all the kingdoms of imagination in the process. The deed is done, and Eldariel the Archon smiles as she rises the heavens and disappears high in the innumerable field of stars above. 

I remember...” 

The great multiversal explosion takes momentum, like an enormous, brilliant nova stretching outward with the energies of life and chaos, swallowing the whole world, growing like a brilliant sphere of creation, birthing thousands, millions of new worlds in its path as it grows and grows beyond the metaphysical boundaries of the original. Soon, new individual powers and consciences spring out of the font of life, some of them good, and some of them evil. The darkest and most destructive of them all congregate to devour entire worlds before they have a chance to bear fruit. They go on a rampage and destroy senselessly all that is born, and therefor all that was as well as all that could possibly exist. 

One of the higher powers born of the nexus decided to oppose them, and to that end, the being took hold of some energy to fashion it into a trap for the destructive, cancerous powers devouring all the worlds around them. Ultimately, they succumbed to the subterfuge, mistaking the trap for one of the million of newborn worlds they were targeting. The Galchutt, as they would soon become to be known, became entangled with the primal fabric of this world trap, and it became Praemal, the prison of the most destructive amongst the children of Chaos. 

Just as the Seven Spires are swallowed in the birth of a new multiverse, Seven Chains come into being, holding firm the soul of the world, keeping the prison safe with no possible escape for the Galchutt. Luminous angels stand behind each one of the Chains, guarding the anchor in the metaphysical castle only accessible from the Vallis Moon, the Green Moon of Praemal. Thus does the world keep destruction at bay, away from the many shades beyond its boundaries. 

That same moon the Alchemists of the Ogden Suhl now want to destroy... 


Beket, Hennie and Simone all open their eyes at the very same time. They repeat of a single voice, unconsciously: “I remember.” 

What is it?” Shibata the Minotaur had been standing next to the girls throughout their vision, and was eager to know what they had seen. 

Beket is the first to recuperate. She looks up at the unmoving skies of the Jewel of the Mind, and answers: “Our individual beings are connected to all potentialities. We are but one of the various incarnations our souls had in the past, have now, and will experience in the future.” 

The nature of the Jewel of the Mind has changed. Once, it was static and responsive to the will of only one of its visitors... Savvan, an entity foreign to the Jewel itself, a tumour on the Land of the Mind itself. But this has now changed. The runebearers now realize they were and are the Spellwardens, and many other beings across the multiverse, all linked by the substance of the Mind. 

All these struggles, these separate moments of glory and tragedies lost to different histories on so many different worlds and planes of the imagination, are all linked on a fundamental level. It is all linked, and they have their own part to play in the never-ending dance of the multiverse. 

Beket, Hennie and Simone can either accept it, or refuse it. If they refuse it, the great schemes of the alchemists of the Ogden Suhl will go on unchecked. The substance of Praemal will be dissolved and the destructive essence of the Galchutt will be released from this prison world. If they accept it, nothing is certain. The world might come to an end all the same, for all they know. But the potential itself, the existence of a chance for it to all to keep on living and existing beyond their mortal selves, this has to count for something. 

Beket breaks the silence: “I remember now. I remember and know how many live we lived, and are living now, and will live in the future as well. Our tales are but one track, one voice out of the entire chorus of the million spheres.” 

Meaning?” asks Odhanan, pointedly interested. 

A choice.” answers Beket. “A choice to live up to our better nature, to be our true selves, or to ignore it all and act out on singled-minded concerns for immediate temporary rewards.” 

Amalruth cuts in, introspectively: “To be who we were truly meant to be.” 

Hennie looks at the foliage of the trees dancing in the wind now blowing over the substance of the Jewel of the Mind: “I was Quip William Wordsmith and Slydracna. Beket was Nuwah Kawah and Sa Qebah. Simone was Jezabell and others besides. We lived these lives and went through these ordeals. Just as we have to go through this challenge here and now. And each time, each time... we face a choice. To care for nothing but our selves and the moment imparted to our egos, or to look at the ripples our actions have on the field of the multiverse, understand, and struggle forward with that knowledge in mind, to the bitter end, if need be.” 

Simone whispers: “To live, or to surrender and know peace... Once and for all...” 

Amalruth interjects, almost incredulously: “Is that really a choice at all?” 

Odhanan looks up at his devilish friend: “When you feel trapped and your mistaken sense of self gets in the way, you have to wonder. It is an existential question we all must face at some point in our lives.” 

Amalruth whispers almost instinctively: “To be, or not to be.” 

Odhanan smiles, with a twinkle in his eye: “Precisely.” 

Hamrick the Halfling cuts in: “Not to interrupt your fascinating philosophical conversation, friends, but I think we have company...” 

A group of sibbecai warriors emerges from the trees. The same group that found Beket, Hennie and Simone upon their arrival on the Jewel of the Mind. One of them, a female that seems to lead the party, looks from Amalruth to the girls, to their other companions, and asks: “Why have you not brought back the beast for the sacrifice? Are you in league with the demon?”  

Amalruth interjects between his large fangs: “Devil...” 

Hennie cuts in immediately, her hand raised to the hulking horned devil: “Whatever.” Then to the sibbecai, she points out: “A better question would be whether YOU are in league with the demon.” 

The sibbecai seems taken aback by the remark: “What is the meaning of this?” 

Beket fills the blank: “Savvan. Savvan is not who he seems to be. You were duped. He is the demon you are searching for.” 

It can't be.” The leader of the Sibbecai is visibly confused, and Beket notices it: “I get the feeling this is not the first time you have had doubts about Savvan.” 

Hennie asks rhetorically: “Savvan has asked for sacrifices in the name of Lothian before, hasn't he? I wonder what benefit the One True God could derive from these holocausts. Have you ever wondered yourself?” 

The Sibbecai nods grudgingly. “Of course,” remarks Hennie, “it would explain much if Savvan was himself trying to highjack the power of the Jewel for his own ends. If he ever was to receive guests to your fort, guests who would obviously qualify as taints upon the Jewel and therefore intruders that would normally have to be sacrificed according to Savvan's wishes, it would provide all the proof needed to the true faithful of Lothian...” 

Beket understands: “The Alchemists. You've seen the Alchemists of the Ogden Suhl since we left camp.” 

The Sibbecai has a moment of doubt, probably deciding whether answering the question was the right thing to do, but she finally yields: “They arrived shortly after you departed. They seem to be conducting some sort of ritual at the Grove...” 

Ritual?” Hennie exchanges a look with her companions. “There is no time to lose. We must get to the Grove before Savvan and the Alchemists complete their ritual!” 

The run through the forest is a blur. The party consisting of Beket Per Aau-Nu, Heinrietta Nagel, Simone Ahrenameer, Amalruth Ironhorn, Odhanan Baoisgne, Shibata of Niveral, Orien de Saeth, Oscar the Otyugh and Hamrick the Halfling rushes with the sibbecai warriors to the Grove where they know they will find Savvan and his allies. 

The atmosphere, the colours and shapes of the trees change as they approach the Grove. The foliage blends with the darkening light of the sky above them; the branches become entangled, twisted and bent at nightmarish angles; the trunks become wide and bloated, their barks stretching to a point of supernatural translucence, with a variety of living forms squirming into their entrails of liquid amber now exposed for all to see. These trees feel like they are about to give birth, to eject spawns out of a mind taking over the substance of Av. 

We have to stop this...” As the group reaches the immediate vicinity of the Grove, Beket stops next to one of the bloated trees. “We have melded our consciousness with the Jewel of the Mind earlier. We can take advantage of it and hijack whatever Savvan is trying to do with it now!” 

She plunges her sacrificial dagger into the bark of the tree, which immediately splits and releases a vast amount of golden liquid. It then expels an entire human body from its trunk with a wet crash. Instantly, the body, a girl with large eyes and short black hair, begins to convulse, and changes shape before Beket's eyes. It first turns into a large feline, a cheetah, and then into some hybrid between the human and feline form, before reversing to the pure human form. 

Beket cannot believe her eyes: “Sa Qebah...” 

The legendary assassin the girls just saw in their visions, the very same lycanthrope who sacrificed herself to give birth to the multiverse, has been reborn from the substance of the Jewel of the Mind. She slowly comes back to consciousness. Wisps of viridian energy envelop her, dress and arm her with implements that match the girls' recollections, from their visions. 

Hennie watches the process. The trees are growing ever more twisted and sinister. “The Jewel... our memories and willpower can affect it.” She turns to Simone: “Quick, the trees!” Hennie gets to a tree and strikes it full on with her staff. Simone follows, and stabs at another one, exercising the full strength of her conscience on her actions. 

Each tree releases another being, another aspect of the girls' previous lives. Hennie watches as the Mojh Mage Blade, Slydracna, comes back to life, and Simone helps Jezabell the Winter Witch do the same. Viridian energy washes over them and prepares them for the battle to come. 

Odhanan steps away from the trees, as if the same action on his part would have deleterious consequences. Orien is the one to press on: “We have no further time for this. We must confront Savvan before it is too late!” 

Few words if any are exchanged. The looks exchanged between the alter-egos, Beket to Sa Qebah, Hennie to Slydracna, and Simone to Jezabell, are charged with mutual comprehension. It is all now coming to a full circle, and the hardest confrontation has yet to happen. 

As the party and the sibbecai warrior enter the perimeter of the Grove, they all notice the forest has morphed into a thick hedge around their field of vision, dark, thick and menacing. In the centre of the Grove, an extremely large specimen towers over all, like a negative, opposite image of the world tree the girls saw earlier in their vision, its root system alone rising up in warped curves about thirty feet above ground. 

Between the gigantic roots plunging into the soil stands Savvan the Sibbecai, chanting words of arcane and divine power, and next to him, none other than Zalathar the Harrow Elf, who was once killed by Hennie and Simone, and Armenius Shiver, the renegade Shuul Alchemist who met his fate against Aarsaklaash, the Lord of the Everburning Citadel. They are surrounded by Obsidian Golems and the Knights of the Ogden Suhl wearing articulated armour, large scissored bastards swords, and mounted on clockwork steeds clanking around the Grove and breathing fire through thick iron nostrils. 

The Black World Tree is loaded with demonic fruits not unlike the amber eggs inside the trunks of the trees that gave the occasion to the girls to summon Sa Qebah, Slydracna and Jezabell back to the world of the Mind. They are all pulsing with unnatural life, ready to hatch when Savvan and his allies complete their cursed ritual. 

There is a brief moment of silence, as if the Jewel of the Mind itself suddenly held its breath, and then, all hell breaks loose. First, the sibbecai warriors who accompanied the party charge the Clockwork Knights. Flames meet with sword, and the smell of charred flesh fills the space. Odhanan, Amalruth and his companions charge through the opposing ranks and reach the line of Obsidian Golem who try to crush them and tear them apart with dark eldritch blasts and massive, sharp shards of black volcanic glass. 

Savvan realizes what is going on, as well as Zalathar and Armenius. The evil sibbecai grows and changes shape to become an enormous, infernal three-horned black dragon. Zalathar attemps to kill the warriors on the party's side with a multitude of magic missiles, while Armenius prepares his dragon pistols and aims them square at Odhanan Baoisgne. 

Hennie blocks some missiles with a Shield spell, while Simone covers some of the distance beween her and Zalathar and kills him a second time after unleashing a volley of shadow-pulsing arrows at her opponent. 

Beket and Hamrick reach the Savvan's infernal form. The dragon unleashes a thick cloud of utter blackness which terrorizes and kills many of the sibbecai warriors. Armenius kills Shibata who was casting a protective spell, his twin dragon pistols unloading great magical power as well as their projectile onto the servant of Niveral. Amalruth is torn to pieces by the Obsidian Golems, while Odhanan is cleanly decapitated by one of the Knights with its scissored blade. 

Simone then concentrates and through the substance of the Jewel of the Mind, tries to take control of Savvan himself. Though her efforts do not meet any expected results, it is enough to distract the great infernal dragon as Hamrick climbs along its tail and tries to stab it. The halfling's short sword bites into the evil flesh. Savvan realizes he has been hit, swirls around, breaking several branches of the Black Tree and projecting some of its fruits on the ground where they start to pulse and become gigantic demon larvae. 

Orien de Saeth fights the last of the Obsidian Golems. Jezabell unleashes a powerful ice storm over the larvae, and the last of the sibbecai warriors fend off the Knights of the Ogden Suhl. Oscar the Otyugh starts feasting on the larvae. The dragon takes hold of Hamrick the Halfling and swallows him whole while Slydracna unleashes a maximized eldritch blast as at him. Beket and Sa Qebah, meanwhile, manoeuvred between the roots around the dragon. Beket now climbs part of the black tree while Sa Qebah gruesomely backstabs the creature. Savvan, now intent on killing Sa Qebah, received a vicious arrow from Simone to the gut. A cloud of darkness escape the jaws of the beast as it screams in pain and frustration. 

Beket literally springs into action, leaping from the tree into the air, aiming at the dragon's head, her great staff charged with the power of the Old Man. Armenius Shiver, having spotted her along the trunk of the tree, is about to fire his dragon pistols, but he is stabbed to death by Simone before he has a chance to pull the triggers. 

Jezabell fights the last of the Knights. Beket lands on the head of the dragon and smashes its skull with all she has. It is enough to split the dragon's head in two. Darkness flows from the open wound in a great explosion of blood and gore. 

The air stands still. Everything is quiet. 

When the darkness dissipates, the last of the Knights of the Ogden Suhl are nowhere to be found. Savvan is defeated, and both Zalathar and Armenius have been sent back to the afterlife they should never have left. 

Hamrick, Amalruth, Odhanan, Shibata have met their demise along with most of the sibbecai warriors who sided with them. Beket, Hennie and Simone are still alive, victorious, along with their alter-egos, Sa Qebah, Slydracna and Jezabell. Oscar the Otyugh is eating the last of the demonic larvae nearby. 

Among the remains of Savvan and Zalathar, besides their weapons and equipment, the girls find what looks like a tuning fork, and with it, a strange silvered box about one foot tall and wide, two feet long, with elaborate scrollwork and filigree. 

Orien de Saeth immediately recognizes the box. “This is the Cask of Frozen Dreams. I can't tell you much about it, besides that it should not ever fall into the hands of the servants of the Galchutt.

Hennie: “The Galchutt.” Remembering their vision earlier. “The destructive powers of Chaos trapped by the essence of the world, Praemal.” 

Orien acquiesces: “Something like that.” 

What will you do with the Cask?” 

Bring it back to the Pale Tower, to be kept safe by the Malkuth.” 

The girls exchange looks with one another. Hennie finally agrees and hands the Cask of Frozen Dream over to Orien. 

What do we do now?” Asks Beket. 

Orien. “I'm not sure. I have a Teleportation Fork, but it will only work one way.” 

You mean a fork like this?” Beket shows the tuning fork they found among the remains of Savvan and Zalathar. 

Orien nods. “Exactly. That makes two of them, but they need to be activated each by a teleportation spell. It works like a recall. These forks when struck with the spell with vibrate and send us back to the specific location attuned to them. We don't even need to have seen that location before. This makes it a great tool for servants or envoy who would need to retreat to specific places once their mission accomplished.” 

Like your mission and the Cask.” 

For instance.” 

Hennie and Slydracna, the two main spellcasters of the party, exchange a few words with one another. Hennie then speaks to the other, a hint of doubt in her voice: “I only have one teleportation spell memorized.” 

The girls look around them, and can see that following Savvan's death the substance of the Jewel of the Mind is dramatically changing before their eyes. It becomes blurred and multicoloured, as if suddenly lacking substance. “Who knows how long we have and what type of landscape will shape itself from the power of the Mind, now.

A child laughs not too far from the party's position. “Do not be afraid, for you have now freed this Jewel from its demonic influence.” 

A small male child with bright blue eyes and shaggy brown hair, wearing nothing but a simple white robe, walks to them from the multicoloured mist now surrounding them. “I am Varyen Sulhe. The rightful ruler of Av. I was trapped by Savvan but you freed me when you defeated him and his minions.” 

Hennie smiles. “Does that mean we can wait, cast one teleportation spell, then another?” 

The child frowns lightly. “I am afraid not.” 


Because those masters of clockworks and artifices you vanquished were but a small group sent by a wider party. Their brethren already are trying to realize their master's will: to bring back the Vallis Moon, and destroy it to fuel their experiments throughout the multiverse.” 

Beket stares at the ground. “This will destroy the world.” 

It will. The master of the Ogden Sulh does not hail from this world. He cares not for it.” 

Simone gives a brief look to Orien de Saeth before concluding: “I guess this means we have to go together, or not at all.” 

The child nods. “Yes, it does.” 

But where? Should we retreat to the Pale Tower first, and seek the Ogden Sulh with the Malkuth, or should we use the other key, and get where Armenius and his Knights would have gone if we hadn't stopped them?” 

Beket responds: “The latter. It might be much more dangerous, but if we do not have the time to wait here and use two teleportation spells, I doubt we have the time to explain everything to the Malkuth and hope the Knights of the Ogden Sulh don't destroy the world before we reach them.” 

The child nods again. “A wise and courageous choice.” 

Hennie raises an eyebrow and asks: “Is there anything else you can tell us about what we are about to face before we depart, Varyen Sulhe?” 

Only that you are going to meet your fate. But do not be alarmed, for as you have seen through your dreams of the Mind, we are but echoes of wider identities and personalities scattered throughout the planes. Wherever your feet leads you now, it will be for the best, have no doubt.” 

Hennie sighs. “Alright then.” 

Everyone ready?” 

Beket, Simone, and all her companions nod in approval. Beket produces the Teleportation Key, and Hennie casts her last spell. The Key resonates, a single note ringing in the air, and soon the entire party is no more, sent away to the location linked to the magic item. 


The substance of the Mind gradually vanishes. The fog of colours gives birth to dark oceans and wide, stormy skies. Soon, Varyen Sulhe, the child and ruler of the Mind, finds himself standing on the deck of an ancient galleon sailing the newborn seas. He watches as a golden orb rises to the horizon. 

They have departed for the time being, then.” The strong, friendly voice comes from behind the child, who answers forgetfully: “They have.” 

Very good.” The Architect, a broad fellow wearing an antique marine uniform, plays with the tip of his long bushy beard as he slowly steps forward and stands next to Varien Sulhe. “They have done their part.” 

The child nods, watching the waves rise and die in the dawning light. “That they have. And more. We shall do ours.” 

The Architect nods softly. “The Castle will be built.” 

Varien Sulhe. “It already has been. It just needs you to come into being.” 

No answer. “To the twilight, then?” 

The child seems to brace himself for what is to come.  He confirms, more to himself than his companion: “To the twilight.” 

Very well.” The Architect leaves the child's side just as the galleon reaches an horizon of many worlds and possibilities.

The Runebearers and Spellwardens vanish from memory. What their fates have been since, nobody really knows. Some divination magics have revealed that the teleportation key they used was attuned to Goth Gulgamel, the fortress of Ghul the Half God half way up the Spire. What ancient magics and alchemical challenges they faced there, we may never know, but the world of Praemal survived, and this in itself is an encouraging thought. 

We owe a great deal of thanks to Beket Per Aau-Nu, Heinrietta Nagel, Simone Ahrenameer and their companions. Who knows? They might come back to the world when it will need them. In the meantime, songs will be sung, tales be told, and their formidable legend live on.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Ptolus, Ten Years Later

I am very shortly going to post the last missing piece of the whole first Praemal Tales campaign chronicled on this blog.

It would not have felt appropriate to do so without some form of introduction or explanation as to the reasons for my return here, after all this time, but it also wouldn't have felt right to burden the Jewel of the Mind part 2 with extraneous information to its subject matter. What you are seeing on this post is a slightly altered copy of the original facebook update which triggered this trip down memory lane, and ultimately, inspired me to finally report the end of the last session of the first Praemal Tales, a little more than nine years ago.

Now please carry on, if you are willing.

The timing of all this is eerie to me, given that Steve Russell/Qwilion of Rite Publishing and "Okay... Your Turn" (or "OYT", Monte Cook's message boards at the time) just passed. When the news flooded facebook yesterday I was thrown all the way back to that era of the Internet RPG community and my gaming and it made me think a lot about those days.

I can honestly say that if it weren't for OYT and the amazing atmosphere of camaraderie and cross-pollination of ideas that went on there, the friendships and the civil debates (OMG, you can have some of those online? Well yes, yes, on OYT at that time you certainly could!), I probably wouldn't be here posting this for some thousand odd friends reading this update because of our gaming connections, and I probably wouldn't have stepped forward and proposed my help to Ernie and Luke Gygax a few years back.

ENWorld (and the ENWorld of those days, around 2003, was much different than it is today) allowed me to talk D&D with other gamers before social media was a "thing" beyond sites like MySpace, and OYT showed me I had something to contribute to the field. That might sound like a long time ago for some of you... probably because it kinda is now. Ha ha. In any case, this is to give you some context to the whole thing as I reminisce about it all.

Now Ptolus. Up to that point, I had been running some pretty straightforward games and campaigns using the 3rd edition of the Dungeons & Dragons role playing game. By the book, you could say, with this amount of encounters, this or that type of set-up of the week, these kinds of things. Ptolus in play opened those horizons dramatically at a key moment to me as a gamer.

My first Ptolus campaign started pretty much by the book, 3rd edition rules, a little bit of Arcana Evolved thrown in for good measure, I decided to end my previous Seven Spires campaign and reboot the whole cosmology of my games in the process, by which I mean, the whole "meta-background" behind every session of every game I run as a GM -- they are all connected in the same multiverse in my mind. Though this idea was abstract up to that point, the reboot of the Seven Spires to Praemal cemented that idea and made it a concrete thing in my games. Today, in my home games, I would still consider the existence of a "Praemal Shade of the Eurth" to be a thing.

For context, you can read about the Seven Spires and the reboot of the campaign as the "Praemal Tales" on this previous blog post.

Most of my first Praemal campaign but for the second half of the last session have been detailed in that blog. Peruse at your own peril. I'm going to pass on the "let me tell you about my campaign" bit and let this blog take care of all the details. Ptolus was important in my evolution because it made me rediscover the open world games I had been known for as a GM in France some 10 years prior and had abandoned when I transitioned to 3rd edition and moved from France to Canada.

The more we played, the more the development of the campaign became organic and player driven. This led to entanglements with the characters friends and families, the bad guys of the campaign layering their schemes on top of it, and the whole thing took a life of its own that really re-energized me as a DM at the time, to the point that when our game in Bella Bella came to an abrupt end as the players moved away from the island at the end of the school year, I was left with a yearning for something different, something that would leave the dust of 3rd edition math and clockwork operation far behind, and concentrate on the things I really cared about in the game.

I didn't have a name for it at the time. It would take some months of hiatus and brainstorming for me to consider other versions of the game, transition through Castles & Crusades, find myself reading Monte Cook's OD&D books I had acquired at an auction to gradually rethink what I wanted out of my gaming through the Citadel of Eight blog and make my way back to the game that started it all, as far as I was concerned, the 1st edition Advanced game I played when I was 11 soloing through T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil.

This led later to a re-examination of Ptolus. I would then reboot the whole city and run Ptolus "in the past", rebuilding the city for it to match 1st edition rules and conceits, just like Ptolus grew out of the playtests of 3rd edition and meshed with its own rules and conceits. This was a huge telling experience, and this also provided the early prototypes for what would ultimately become the Prismatic Maze of the Marmoreal Tomb. The ideas that came to mind and were explored in those days would inform future creations and input I would have in my own projects and later with the project of The Hobby Shop Dungeon with Ernie Gygax.

You can still read the play by post of that 1st edition game starting here, on that thread of the RPG Site.

I don't want to make this too much of a long, excruciating read. If you are still reading this, or even better, if you were one of the long time readers of this blog and find yourself reading this post, congratulations, and thank you for your patience.

Much much fun was had with Ptolus, and it is still part of my campaign's cosmology. I left 3rd edition behind, and would probably only consider running it again using the City by the Spire as published, which in itself is a huge compliment on my part. Monte Cook went about various creations in a different way, creating his own rules light Cypher system, Numenera, and the rest is, as they say, history.

My path was different, brought me back to the origins of the game, re-energized my creative output, and convinced me I could create something of value for others to game with. From there, it would take some time, sharing material online, experimentation, and more gaming, before Ernest Gary Gygax Jr. and I would finally meet and spark up what has become a huge honor, a pleasure and responsibility, the most important creative project of my life, so far: the renovation of The Hobby Shop Dungeon, the Marmoreal Tomb project, and our joint partnership, GP Adventures LLC.

I owe some of that to Ptolus. And the community in which Ptolus came to be. And the friends I made in those days who convinced me I was a valued member of the community and had some things to share with other gamers like myself. So here's to you Ptolus, and all you friends who no doubt recognized yourselves. Thanks for the amazing memories, and the creative impetus it helped spawn in me.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Campaign Background: The Seven Spires

At this point, I should probably remind everyone that the players of the Praemal Tales had played another campaign prior to this one. The Seven Spires started out as an Arcana Unearthed game using a homebrew setting which most notably blended elements from Ghostwalk and Laelith, a Fantasy metropolis designed by the crew of the French magazine Casus Belli in 1986, which also happens to be extremely similar in ambiance and layout to Ptolus, the City by the Spire. By the end of its run, the campaign had become, from a rules’ standpoint, a blend of Arcana Evolved and D&D 3.5.

The First Season of the Seven Spires (September 2004 to June 2005) campaign started in the vicinity of Manifest. From there, the player-characters ended up in Laelith, where they ended up saving the city from the ravages of the Emerald Death (see below).

The Second Season of the Seven Spires (September 2005 to June 2006) involved old and new player-characters who investigated murders taking place in the small community of the Delver’s Cliff. From there, the PCs started exploring the dungeons connecting the Cliff area to the “Cloaque”, the gigantic labyrinth on which Laelith stood. Another thing the Holy City had in common with Ptolus, which would inspire the campaign’s very conclusion in rather surprising ways (see below).

This is relevant to the Jewel of the Mind and the Praemal Tales because I would, during that particular game session, slowly link the characters of the Praemal Tales to those of the Seven Spires, foreshadowing the idea that these were in fact the same souls, the same heroes incarnated as different individuals in particular times, places. Universes.

Let us find out more about the Seven Spires.

The Cast

Amalruth Ironhorn, Unfettered Horned Devil (Benoist P.)
Jezabell, Quickling Winter Witch (Tiana K.)
Mandingo, the Hummingbird Totem Warrior (Domingo M.)
Miriell, Female Dwarven Paladin (Milica T.)
Nacht, Female Unfettered (Lisa Maria S.)
Sa Qebah, Female Shapechanging Assassin (Nerissa M.)
Slydracna, the Mojh Mage Blade (Caroline P.)

From Left to Right:
Jezabell, Miriell, Sa Qebah, Slydracna, Mandingo and Nacht.

The Campaign

The Spellwardens in the first part of the campaign saved Spellhold, school of magic, and the whole city of Laelith from the Emerald Death, a sort of magical plague which appears when the powers of Life and Death are imbalanced (when the powers of Life and Death are tempered with, the powers of Life might compensate on a Cosmic level, which initiates a sort of chain reaction where Life itself becomes an auto-destructive disease that devours its own to survive... the Emerald Death).

This plague created an equal, but reversed, chain reaction from the powers of Death in the region. The Undead, who were until that point monsters mentioned in bard tales and half-forgotten legends, reappeared in the Maze under the city at a dramatic rate. Adimarchus, or "Marcus" as he was known, was a teacher of Spellhold who thought this represented an opportunity to be seized. He was haunted by dreams of incredible power and discoveries, and his will shattered after months of this treatment.

Marcus allied himself with the Pactlords of the Quaan, a most eclectic alliance of monsters including aberrations, fiends and dark elves from other planes. Together, Marcus and the Quaan brought back to life the mummy lord Gwalchmesh, a hideous undead who was the key to an inverted pyramid buried deep below the earth. This pyramid, it was said, was the tomb of the "God Who Was Not Meant to Be", a powerful and corrupt entity which long ago was part of the chorus that created the World.

Marcus and the Quaan meant to open and plunder the pyramid. They thought they could play with power without getting burnt.
They were wrong.

Once the pyramid was opened, Gwalchmesh turned against his masters. The Quaan soon lost confidence in Marcus who quickly became utterly insane. The drow part of the alliance decided to exterminate the other members of the Pact and allied themselves with Gwalchmesh. This is during these events that the Spellwardens became directly involved.

Previously, they were investigating murders in the community of the Delver's Cliff, a small village of adventurers exploring the catacombs below their village not far from Laelith itself. Soon, the Spellwardens knew that whatever the key to the mystery of the Cliff was, it was to be found in the depths of its dungeons. They also were charged to find a teacher of Spellhold... Marcus... who disappeared from the school without any warning. The Headmaster was particularly concerned as far as the well-being of his friend was concerned.

It came as a surprise to the Spellwardens to find out that Marcus was a big part of the problems going on around and under the Delver's Cliff. They also soon discovered that the pyramid was opened, and that the mastermind behind all these events, including the Emerald Death and events way beyond their scope, was the mysterious messiah of the God Who Was Not Meant To Be... the Bonelord.

Shortly after all these elements were revealed to them, somewhere in the catacombs, while fleeing from a Nightcrawler pursuing them, the Spellwardens encountered the horned devil Amalruth Ironhorn who was summoned by their enemies to kill them. But strangely the horned devil, breaking free from his bonds to the Infernal Realms Beyond, wouldn't bring himself to do it. Victims together of a trap in that same area, they were all transported through a dimensional rift to the Land of I'ix, a plane condemned to eternal winter. There, they long searched for a way to escape, and escape ultimately they did.*

When the Spellwardens made it back from I'ix, they emerged from a portal right into a melee between the forces of House d'Astradeen and the drow of the Delver's Cliff. They sided with the forces of House d'Astradeen. The wardens then learned of the death of the God King of Laelith killed by his own concubines (charmed by a vampire from the Delver's Cliff) during one of the ritual orgies of the Palace, and freed Eldariel, a Trumpet Archon imprisoned below the Cliff for centuries.

Along with the Archon and Amalruth, the unfettered Devil, the Spellwardens decided to end the threat once and for all. While the forces of House d'Astradeen went North to help with the drow siege of the Delver's Cliff, the Wardens went South, directly to the pyramid and its main Seal.

They confront a first time the Bonelord in caves near the Seal, but the ageless undead uses a Word of Recall to sneak away while some of his minions fight the wardens. The minions, including Hill Giants and an Undead Troll, put up a good fight, but the Spellwardens were helped by their determination and some old friends showing up right on time (the Ettercap Razuth, ex-member of the Quaan, who was helped by the Spellwardens and accepted in Spellhold for magical training because of them, Edwin, long lost brother of Jezabell and a warforged from Laelith's city guard).

Drawing closer to the Seal, the Spellwardens defeat Gwalchmesh once and for all and in a fit of mercy, let the drow priestess go.

Our heroes finally confront the Bonelord one the last time. After an epic battle during which most of their friends and allies gave their lives, the Spellwardens end up trapping the Bonelord into an Iron Flask. Nacht the Unfettered used all her cunning and skill to pull this off (a memorable fumble on a Will save from the DM helped a lot too, I should point out).

But their deeds are not over. The pyramid slowly opens, and the heroes have to reactivate the Seal. Eldariel tells them the Seal needs the essence of a being of Good to live on. They need to kill her, and she offers them her silver sword: "Only the sacrifice of a being of Good will put an end to this."

This is when the wardens hear Sa Qebah's shout as she commits suicide. During all these adventures, Sa Qebah the were-cheetah, the rogue and monster, the freak, tried to control her urges and amend for the many murders she committed during her life. She now had found a way to redeem herself. She fell to the ground and died, tears at the corner of her eyes.

Silence filled up the room. Eldariel was weeping.

The Wardens stepped closer to Sa Qebah and picked up her body. The Archon picked up the Iron Flask and brought it to her lips. She looked at the wardens as she did so and drank the soul of the Bonelord. She collapsed with a bitter smile on her lips. "This was the only way. Now, the world can change. The world ... has ... changed."

This is how Eldariel the Archon of the Realms of Celestia left this world forever.

After hours of walking and crawling back through the Maze, the Spellwardens found their way out with Sa Qebah's corpse with them. The world had changed, indeed. The city was no longer Laelith, but "Ptolus". The world was no longer Osterande, Realm of the Spires, but the Empire of Tarsis.

Slowly, the Spellwardens learned more about this new world. They were told by an oracle of the Street of a Million Gods that maybe, by destroying the essence of the being they knew as the Bonelord, they also destroyed a part of the world they loved. Somehow, the world was indeed not the same. Similar, and yet different.

Nobody knew who these "Spellwardens" were, nor did they know how they had become so rich so fast. Slydracna the Mojh bought one of the most glorious estates in town. Jezabell the Faen left Ptolus by sea to find her native village, Ogrebound, without knowing if it still existed in this world. Miriell the dwarven paladin went on later quests and, it is said, still helps the Keepers of the Veil from time to time, the only one of the Spellwardens to still be known as an active adventurer. Nacht disappeared while investigating the City's underground societies. Story has it that she was working her way through the criminal organizations of Ptolus to oppose the Balacazar family in some fashion or another, though her reasons for doing so remain unknown.

As for Sa Qebah, she was buried in the Necropolis under a monument funded by all the surviving Spellwardens. Nobody in town really knows why the monument is so appealing. Even awe-inspiring. Nobody knows the name of the person buried there. Children often wonder about this mausoleum and the legacy this unknown hero may have had; they invent stories and come up with great deeds and adventures where always, somehow, the hero ends up saving the day through her own sacrifice...

The memory of the Seven Spires fades away. Even to the surviving Spellwardens, it becomes hard to remember the shores of the High Waters, the faces of familiar friends and enemies. Even Sa Qebah's memory seems to fade from the wardens' minds. Is this world better, safer, or even more decent? The Spellwardens have to make this place their home. No one knows what the future will bring.


To see more pictures and find out more about the Seven Spires, you might want to check out the Lake of Blood and the Seven Spires End Game (which includes a draft of this post) on ENWorld.

* The Adventures of the Spellwardens in I'ix occurred when Nerissa, Beket's player in the Praemal Tales, and Sa Qeba's here in the Seven Spires, decided she wanted to try her hand at running the game. This allowed me to become a player. During the whole time the Spellwardens were trapped on I'ix, my character was Amalruth Ironhorn, the unfettered Devil discussed above. Once the Spellwardens made it back to the Seven Spires, I resumed my DM duties, and Amalruth stayed around as an NPC, sometimes controlled by me, sometimes controlled by the players themselves, depending on the particular situation.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Session 13 - The Jewel of the Mind (Part 1)

Sunday, May 27, 2007 from 3:30 PM to 7PM.

Details of our interactions prior to the game on that day are now forgotten. Since I recorded the time when the session started, it seems we had lunch together before playing.

This was our penultimate game session. I knew our time together was coming to an end, and needed our campaign to finish with a ‘bang’. The idea up to this point was to let the PCs investigate the plans of the alchemists of the Ogden Suhl further. They would have discovered the construction sites of a few more of the seven alchemical cannons, maybe investigated the experiments of the alchemists with the rifts created millennia ago in Kem by the Wars of Fire, or their prior relationships with the Forsaken, the Fallen and the Necropolis of Ptolus.

But as I realized at that time, most of the players of the game would leave their jobs on the island and not come back for the next school year. We had a handful of sessions to play, 5th level characters, and a huge finale in the works. From there, I was left with two options: either downgrade the finale to fit 5th level characters, or drastically improve the efficiency of the players’ characters to make them tough enough to face the threats of Goth Gulgamel and the Ogden Suhl.

As the following session clearly shows, I chose the second solution and found unexpected ways to level up the characters, upgrade their existing equipment, and provide them with allies which they would run themselves, thus ensuring they would be up to speed to face the dangers of the Spire… and beyond.

Session 13 – The Jewel of the Mind

Still the 26th of Rain

The echoes of rocks crashing above the runebearers’ heads fade in the distance. All becomes dark and silent. There is then a feeling of movement and acceleration; a cacophony of many shades and colors, as if experienced directly through their own minds instead of their worldly perceptive organs; strange patterns swirling all around on courses too complex for their intelligence to fathom. There is a sense of twisting and turning; abrupt stops, and acceleration again.

Light. Too much light.

They all open their eyes. The forest all around them is quiet, almost silent. A light breeze caresses the high foliage of a century-old tree nearby. There is the sound of a stream in the distance. No bird songs. No animals of any kind. Something is not quite right with this landscape.

They stand up, check on each other.

Beket, Hennie, Simone, Iliana, Hamrick, Oscar… they are all unscathed.

Do not move.

The voice came from the low bushes and high ferns further away.

Drop your weapons.”

They all comply. There is a moment of doubt, though the voice did not seem particularly menacing. The ferns slowly part, and a group of three strange-looking humanoids walk up to them. Their bodies are lean and muscular, covered with a thin fur, two brown, one black. They have long, narrow hound snouts and large, pointed ears which give their faces the vague appearance of jackals. They are equipped with bows, swords, leather shirts and even one with plate armor, just like any other group of adventurers.

Where are you coming from, and what is your purpose in these parts?

The runebearers explain they are coming from Ptolus and are pursuing a group of alchemists in the hopes of stopping them from destroying the world. The creatures seem genuinely surprised by their explanation: “We do not know this Ptolus you are talking about. We are the Sibbecai, the servants of Lothian, the redeeming messenger of our Faith.

Hennie seizes the opportunity: “If you are the servants of Lothian, then the actions of the alchemists threaten your way of life just as much as ours. We should stop them before they destroy all that we hold dear.

The Sibbecai seem to believe her, but they seem hesitant nonetheless. “We have to bring you before Savvan, our guide and leader. Only he can determine what should be our next course of action. He will be able to see through your souls and find out if you are trustworthy. Will you come with us, or fight us?

The girls look at each other silently. On one hand, time is of the essence, and they have to find the alchemists as soon as possible. On the other hand, they cannot deny that the Sibbecai’s help is needed. They do not even know where they are. They still need all the information they can possibly get to thwart the Ogden Suhl’s plans.

The walk to the Sibbecai’s encampment is a blur. Still no bird songs, no encounters in the forest. Just the unnatural, quiet peace of it all. As the girls look at each other and their companions, they notice subtle changes in each other’s appearances. One moment, a shade looks much darker than it is supposed to be. At another, the patterns of a cloak look like they have slightly changed. There is something about this place that feels definitely off.

The runebearers, their companions and their guides finally arrive to the Sibbecai settlement, deep within the forest. There, they meet Savvan, a Sibbecai zealot who leads his brethren with an iron grip. He listens to the girls’ story for the next while. After carefully considering what they told him of the Ogden Suhl, the Vallis moon and the possible end of the world, he finally announces: “Lothian alone knows the hidden truth behind your tales. You must prove yourself before the One God, and this requires an holocaust, a sacrifice worthy of Him and His Wisdom.”

The girls do not know what to make of his words.

I know of unworthy visitors to this Jewel who came to me a little while ago. They are sinners in the face of the One, and must be brought to Justice. They brought one of the Damned souls of the Netherworlds with them, a Demon of formidable power, and it is that wretched creature which must be sacrificed at the Grove for you to prove your worth.

Once they realized we would not hear what they had to say, they flew North with the Beast. We sent scouting parties to find them before they could do the Jewel any harm. That’s how my brethren found you. Go now, find these heretics, and bring them all before us. You will then find our help.

Be weary, however, for this is Av, the Jewel of the Mind. The forest will play tricks on you, and you must do your best to ignore its callings. Should you falter on your quest, you will be lost forever to the light of the Lord and His charitable Redemption.

27th of Rain

Thus the runebearers left the Sibbecai in search of these visitors who preceded them. If they are Ogden Suhl and brought a demon with them, this would prove to be a terrible confrontation. The girls and their companions, Hamrick the Halfling and Oscar the Otyugh, explore the forest. It soon becomes clear that the forest indeed tries to communicate with them. Some trees shift places. They find themselves walking into the same clearings they explored earlier in the day, time and time again.

Beket finally decides to climb up a tree to have a peak at their global surroundings. Once she reaches the upper branches of a large oak, she suddenly realizes that the forest stretches in all directions far beyond the horizon. As she silently prays to the Old Man, she suddenly realizes that the faces sculpted in her bracers look at her with real, flesh and blood eyes.

She takes them off, raises them above her head and examines their detail in the sunlight. The entire sculpted faces now seem alive. They smile at her, and whisper: “Do not worry. I am here. Wear us, and you will hear.

Taken aback by such a turn of events, Beket hesitates for a moment. She remembers Savvan’s warning: “The forest will play tricks on you, and you must do your best to ignore its callings.” This is not the forest, however. These are her own bracers! She decides against the Sibbecai’s advice, and puts the bracers back on her wrists.

Everything suddenly seems clearer. Beket feels the world around her, and the world beyond, as part of herself. She feels as if she was in contact with the Old Man himself, and as such, gets a sense that all that is happening to them makes no sense whatsoever in the grand scheme of things. Everything is part of the grand tapestry, and the grand tapestry cannot be destroyed by the actions of just a few of its knots. Why then must she fight? Why resist at all?

She ponders these existential questions, sitting high on the branch of the oak.

Far below, Hennie and Simone are experiencing similar doubts.

Hennie feels the flames gather around her, and realizes that this whole fight is about her and her place in the world. It is for her to seize all these opportunities to develop and refine her magical might. This isn’t a curse, but a boon to be cherished, and cultivated.

Simone looks at her bow. The very matter of darkness seems to emanate from its limbs and string. She shoots aimlessly. The arrow leaves behind it a trail of black fumes and wisps of darkness. She feels the Dark surround her; infuse her mind, thoughts, conscious and unconscious. Does she have to betray her friends and companions, just like she betrayed the House Sadar before them? Or is this all about her final steps into the arms of Death, and ultimate oblivion?


The sudden arrival of an enormous horned beast breaks the charm. Two trees are flattened when the muscular purple humanoid charges through the clearing head first. The Demon! It stops at the foot of the large oak Beket climbed, crouches powerfully… and jumps high up through the foliage like a bullet fired from a dragon rifle! It head-butts Beket on its way up, seizes her at the same time by the arms, and they both crash through the branches and finally back to the ground with in a loud thump that sends pieces of earth and wood fly around them.

WHO ARE YOU? WHAT DO YOU WANT?” The creature yells as it grasps Beket’s head with one of its massive hands, ready to squeeze it between its oversized claws. The monk is about the resist when she notices a strange look in the beast’s eyes. There is anger within, some amount of fear for sure… but no hatred. No evil. This puzzles her, and she decides to try to negotiate with the creature.

We hail from Ptolus. We are searching for the alchemists. We need help.

Another male voice comes from the trees. “This is all right, then. We need your help as well.

Three individuals walk into the clearing. One is wearing a purple hood and robes; another a plate armor and a massive broadsword of stone; the last one is a minotaur wearing priestly clothes. The one with the purple robes speaks first: “I am Odhanan Baoisgne, and this is Orien de Saeth,” he says as he points to his armoured companion wearing the huge blade of veined marble. He then points to the minotaur: “This, is Shibata.” Odhanan then seems to realize the purple beast is still squeezing Beket’s head: “You can let it go now, Amalruth.

The creature lets Beket go with a grunt: “You are lucky I am not hungry.

Orien steps in: “Now, now. They did not start the fight. We did.” He smiles and adds to Beket's attention: “Amalruth is a Devil who freed himself from the clutches of his masters. He only seeks to live on his own terms, and is a valuable asset for our little team.

He extends a hand towards her: “I apologize for the attack, but we just weren’t sure what your intentions were.”

Hennie walks to the newcomers. “We were sent to hunt down your friend here. The Sibbecai want to sacrifice him to Lothian. Only then would we be deemed worthy of their help.” Shibata, the minotaur, seems very interested by these revelations.

Hennie goes on: “We are here for the alchemists of the Ogden Suhl. We want to stop them from precipitating the end of the world, or whatever they truly want out of the return of the Vallis moon. What are you searching for?

Odhanan and Orien look at each other. The minotaur answers: “The Cask of Frozen Dreams, a powerful artefact which we must bring back to the Pale Tower.

Simone and Beket do not seem to understand what Shibata is talking about. Hennie fills in the blanks: “You mean to say… you were sent here by the Malkuth, the angelic powers of Ptolus?

Odhanan nods: “This is the truth.

Hennie seems genuinely puzzled: “What is the Cask of Frozen Dreams? Why do you have to bring it back to the Malkuth?

Shibata the minotaur shakes his head: “We are not at liberty to say. Suffice for you to know that this could be one of the instruments needed to bring about the end of the world. Maybe the alchemists you mentioned are searching for it as well. We need to take it off this pocket plane back to Ptolus, at the Pale Tower. Will you help us?

The girls are now faced with a conundrum: Helping Savvan sacrifice Amalruth, or band with these adventurers, and recover the Cask of Frozen Dreams. Beket asks: “How can we help?

Shibata nods: “We need to defeat Savvan and get him away from the Sibbecai. We need to get the Cask from him. He is not what he seems. He is…” Amalruth cuts in, baring his teeth: “I know a Spawn of the Abyss when I see one.

The Devil straightens up: “He is the ‘demon’. I don’t know how he got there, and how he managed to convince these Sibbecai he is some sort of Holy priest sent to lead them in Lothian’s name, but he is what he is: Evil and power-hungry.”

Odhanan: “Maybe he’s done so with the help of his advisor, this human… what was his name again?

Orien cuts in: “Zalathar.

Simone is the first to react: “Zalathar! But he’s dead. We killed him! He’s the one who’s done experiments on us. He’s in league with the alchemists. He’s the key to all this!

None of the girls’ new companions seems the least bit surprised. Odhanan explains: “This is this place. Av, Jewel of the Mind. It responds to the sentient beings within its reach. Your alchemists probably saw an opportunity there, and brought Zalathar’s soul back from the Netherworld. That or it was just coincidence, a subconscious answer to the alchemists’ desires. I’m sure Av talked to you already.

Hennie confirms: “It has. It seems to exacerbate my own desires. The selfish ones…

The ones you want to suppress,” Shibata points out.

Beket nods in understanding: “We need to attune ourselves to Av’s whispers.” She walks to the tree she climbed earlier. She reaches for her sacrificial dagger, and stabs its bark. Sap slowly starts to bleed from the tree as she pulls her knife from its wound. “We shall drink, and remember.

The girls take turns and drink the sap from the tree.

At first, nothing seems to happen. But then, then… they remember.

To be continued...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Session 12 - Requiem for a Cannon

Saturday, May 5, 2007 from 5:00 PM to 10:15 PM.

As usual, we meet and have dinner together. This is the first time our friends get to be with our dog, Buster, in our home. We adopted it just a few days prior to this session. The food is varied and great, as one might expect from the excellent cooks that happen to be playing in campaign. I mostly remember the tortillas filled with Nutella and Strawberry slices we had for dessert.

Session 12 - Requiem for a Cannon

Still the 25th of Rain

Our heroes defeated Armenius Shiver and his alchemists. They know he was in league in Zalathar and some Shuul who performed experiments on them for some unknown reason. They also so know that somewhere beyond the galleries spreading from the Lodge they will find some sort of cannon Armenius wanted to protect at all costs. What is the purpose of this cannon? That's what they have to find out.

The girls loot the bodies and search the surrounding area before taking some well deserved rest. They do not know when their next stop would take place, and know that whoever is guarding the cannon ahead is already aware of their presence. With no element of surprise left to them, they might just as well prepare for the worst.

26th of Rain

The next day, the girls progress through the galleries below Old Town towards an unknown destination. They soon reach some sort of old catacombs and decide to explore them.

They walk through vault after vault giving shelter to ancient crypts and sarcophagi predating the modern city of Ptolus. There is no light source but for the sunrods they brought with them. The air is thick with the smell of dirt and rot. As they progress through the surrounding darkness, they can hear the faint sounds of air moving high above. There is no ceiling to be seen.

That's when the first attack comes. As it turns out, some sort of insect creatures, half-human, half-flies, use one of the vaults as a nest and breeding chamber. The combat itself lasts a split second. The dimwitted beasts are no match for our magic and bow-wielding team. They are routed, but the warning is clear enough: these crypts hold more secret dangers than the alchemists' alone, if they ever were to be found in such foul place.

This session's set-up using Dungeon Tiles and various props.

It just takes a few minutes to confirm the warning. As soon as they penetrate the main vault of the complex, one of the sarcophagi slides. A juicy, rotten corpse emerges from the tomb below. Its movements are erratic. It stands up awkwardly and stretches a hand towards them. Its mouth opens. Bloody bile flows onto its chest, and it whispers: "You... are... doomed..."

Simone knows when things are about to get worse, and things are definitely going to get worse in this instance. She sprints at the other side of the vault just as Oscar the Otyugh takes a hold of the animated corpse with its tongue. She reaches a gate opening on a dark corridor. The others run through the vault. Some trap is triggered. In the corridor beyond Simone, a wall section slides mechanically. The undead corpse escapes Oscar's grasp and rushes towards the corridor, soon followed by the Otyugh. It welcomes what it calls "the Master" with a high-pitched voice: "You are coming Master! You are free Master! Yes! Yes! Welcome the Master!"

A hulking form walks heavily through the opening revealed by the side panel. It is half organic, half mechanical. It is a collection of corpses stiched together and covered with a spiked, rusted, wet plating of some sort. The monster growls as it marches on. Its spikes impale the undead wretch at it cries its undying love for the Master. The creature then gets rid of Oscar, pushing the Otyugh aside as if it was lighter than a feather. Blood flows through the rusted orifices covering its plating. It wants flesh. It wants blood. It wants them.

Beket goes in contact with the creature but fumbles and crashes on its spikes. Simone becomes temporarily corporeal and stabs the thing in the back to no avail. Hennie concentrates and extends hear fingers towards their enemy. She shakes them as if they were boneless tentacles. There is a sudden tension in the air. Pseudopods of ethereal darkness from the ground up to the creature. They search for openings and flaws in its armor, insinuate themselves through it, search through the dead flesh and eat the rot from within. The plating cracks loudly. Pieces of the creature's armor crash down and send metallic echoes throughout the crypts. That's just the occasion Beket needed. She sends her fist through the creatures misshapen head with all the strength she can gather. She sends pieces of flesh and rotten pulp flying in all the directions. Some skull within explodes, and bits of brain matter cover Beket's face as the creature tries to keep its footing. She squeezes whatever her fingers can find. She takes a deep breath. She pulls... and pulls... to rip off some sort of enormous, twisted spine from the creature. She throws the thing across the room.

The creature stops dead in its tracks. Its unnatural life stolen from it along with the spine now shaking and wiggling on the cold floor of the vault, its amalgam of a body collapses in a sickening fleshy sound. It is followed by the silence of death.

And then more silence.

Until the girls manage to draw breath again.

Oscar the Otyugh and his friend, Beket.

Flakes of dust float in the air. A few drops fall irregularly from the ceiling of the vault. The girls look at each other. This one was close. Very close. But far from breaking their determination, it only strengthens it. The rest of the exploration is a succession of traps and hostile encounters with wizards and duergars working for the alchemists. The girls know that they are close from the cannon. They push forward relentlessly, triggering, disarming traps, defeating foe after foe... until they finally reach their goal.

There, in a large room that is nothing short of a gigantic shaft reaching up for the surface of Ptolus, a curious structure of basalt looking vaguely like a monstrous hand reaching for the heavens has been assembled by the alchemists. It is surrounded by building platforms, but seems to be operational since strange gems embedded here and there along its surface pulse with a threatening, impious red glow that seems to give life and energy to the machine. Wires connect the structure to the walls of the chamber. Somewhere high on the platforms, a group of Shuul alchemists is waiting for our heroes.

Bullets, arrows and magic missiles are exchanged. Beket climbs up the black structure to reach the Shuul. As more projectiles fly all around, Beket looses her footing. She falls.

Puppy Buster is waiting for the game to be over.

And that's when all hell breaks loose. Just as Beket falls, the markings covering her body suddenly hurt. Hurt very much. The runes are alive. The runes want to save her. They shine like the sun. Wings spread from her back. White feathers meet air. Beket finds a new life within.

The runes are alive. All of them. Hennie's body is now cloaked with flames that do not hurt her. Simone runes make her hear the slow pavan of the dead buried here, perceive their lost hopes, their wishes unfulfilled, their cries for help and revenge. Iliana's runes uncover new layers in her psyche, a sea of deep thoughts she can use and shape as blades to assault her opponents.

The tide turns in favor of the runebearers. The alchemists die, one after the other, paying the price of the treachery and price they put in all these experiments they performed on them. The whole necropolis is shaken by the awakening of the runes. None within can ignore the obvious threat the girls now represent. Blocks of masonry crash here and there. The whole place is about to collapse.

Some of the servants of Armenius Shiver rush to the room. They want to flee from the area. Their leader, Ozhûl, bargains for their lives and reveal what the girls want to know. "The alchemists? They are the Ogden Suhl, the servants of the flame, some of the Shuul who followed the harrow elf and his wretched master once they sucked all the technological secrets they could from the organization."

They ask about the wretched master Ozhûl mentioned. "He too is a harrow elf like Zalathar, but he is the Master. Zalathar was just the Apprentice. Nobody knows his name. Everyone knows he is the one who proposed the construction of the cannons."

The girls are stunned. "Cannons? You mean there are several of them?"

Ozhûl shakes his head. "Seven of them. They're all aimed at the sky. They are all using some Chaositech and some of the secrets of the Shuul. They can shoot straight up, straight to..."

"... the Vallis moon." Hennie understands suddenly. "They want to destroy the Vallis moon."

Ozhûl confirms. "Definitely. Everyone got in for the power that represents. Just a chunk of the moon crashing down on Ptolus... the magical potential is enormous! That's what the Ogden Suhl are after, but not the Master. The Master has another agenda in destroying the moon. He unearthed rituals and means to make the moon come back. Nobody knows what he really wants. He betrayed the Fallen and Forsaken, then the Shuul, all for some goal that has to do with the destruction of the moon and Goth Gulgamel."

Goth Gulgamel. The fortress built by the Skull King on the side of the Spire. One of the deadliest places of Praemal.

Simone and Yorick the familiar.

The girls let the information sink. Simone then asks "How can we get to Goth Gulgamel?"

Ozhûl looks at her like she suddenly became insane: "You sure?"


"Alright... it's your life." A block of stone crashes to the ground and breaks apart not far away. "Just beyond this chamber, you will find a Maw."

"A Maw?"

"A portal. It's alive. Looks like a maw, with teeth and everything. You should step through the Maw. You'll be on your way there."

The whole necropolis is falling apart. Ozhûl asks if he can leave. The girls reluctantly agree: time is running out.

They rush to the next chamber, and exactly like Ozhûl explained, there stands a sort of gate that strangely looks like a maw. They do not waste any time: one after the other, they jump through the gate. Beket, Hennie, Simone, Iliana, Hamrick, Oscar... they all get through. The sound of crashing rock fades behind them.

Nothing is left but silence.

XP Breakdown

Beket and Simone are Level 5. Hennie and Iliana are level 4.
- Combat vs. Insect people - CR 4
- Combat vs. ghoul and "master" - CR5
- Electric trap - CR 4
- Combat vs. Duergar and Wizard - CR5
- Combat vs. ex-Shuul agents - CR4
- Deal with Ozhûl - CR4
XP per PC for Session 12: 1,166 for level 5 PCs, 1,333 for Hennie, 666 for Iliana (player left early).
Total XP earned (Beket and Simone): 12,051 XP.
Total XP earned (Hennie): 11,243 XP.
Total XP earned (Iliana): 9,276 XP.
Hennie levels up.

DM's notes

Another good session. The fight with the ex-Shuul agents waiting for the PCs at the cannon took forever. The awakening of the runes was foreshadowed earlier in the campaign. I wanted it to take place gradually and this is the first of two big awakenings leading to the great confrontation with the bad guys in Goth Gulgamel and beyond.

This is at this point in time that I learned that two (and soon a third) of the players would not come back for the next school year (all the players are teachers in our community). I now realize I haven't much time to finish the campaign, or bring it to some satisfactory closure. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realize I did not want to end the Praemal Tales, at least not definitely.

This is how this awakening of the runes, the Maw and the deal with Ozhûl came into play. These were ways to speed up the resolution of the game without really bringing in a deus ex machina. It was another opportunity in disguise, really.

It's important to precise that the pieces of the puzzle (the purpose of the cannons, the link with the Vallis moon and so on) were really put together by the players alone. Ozhûl provided some big chunks of information, but the deduction was really theirs. I think that was particularly important in this case. Having such a release of information happen any other way would have robbed the players of any sense of achievement. There was definitely one at the end of this session.